Sunday, May 31, 2009

Ten of the best balloon flights in fiction

At the Guardian, John Mullan named ten of the best balloon flights in fiction.

One title on the list:
The Baron in the Trees by Italo Calvino

Cosimo has abandoned his aristocrat inheritance for a life in the canopy of the trees that surround his childhood home. He says he will never touch the earth again. When he is near death, people gather to see him fall to the ground. But then a balloon appears above the trees, trailing a rope. Cosimo catches the rope and disappears.
Read about another balloon flight on Mullan's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 99: Kathleen George's "The Odds"

The current feature at the Page 99 Test: The Odds by Kathleen George.

About the book, from the publisher:
The Homicide Department is upside down—Richard Christie is in the hospital, Artie Dolan is headed away on vacation, John Potocki’s life is falling apart, and Colleen Greer is so worried about her boss’s health, she can hardly think. A young boy in Pittsburgh’s North Side neighborhood dies of a suspicious overdose. The Narcotics police are working on tips and they draft Colleen and Potocki to help them. In this same neighborhood, four young kids have been abandoned and are living on their own. The Philips kids, brainy in school, are reluctant to compromise themselves. But they need cash. Connecting these people and their stories is Nick Banks, just out of prison and working off a debt to an old acquaintance involved in the drug trade. Nick is a charmer, a gentle fellow who’s had a lot of trouble in his life. One day he gives free food to the Philips kids, little guessing how connected their lives are about to become.

Kathleen George’s latest work pushes the edge—a spectacularly original crime novel.
Preview The Odds, and learn more about the book and author at Kathleen George's website.

Kathleen George is a professor of theatre at the University of Pittsburgh. She is also the author of the acclaimed novels Taken, Fallen, Afterimage, the short story collection The Man in the Buick, scholarly theatrical books and articles, and many short stories.

The Page 99 Test: Afterimage.

The Page 99 Test: The Odds.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Pg. 69: Dorothy & Thomas Hoobler's "The Crimes of Paris"

This weekend's feature at the Page 69 Test: The Crimes of Paris: A True Story of Murder, Theft, and Detection by Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler.

About the book, from the publisher:
Turn-of-the-century Paris was the beating heart of a rapidly changing world. Painters, scientists, revolutionaries, poets--all were there. But so, too, were the shadows: Paris was a violent, criminal place, its sinister alleyways the haunts of Apache gangsters and its cafes the gathering places of murderous anarchists. In 1911, it fell victim to perhaps the greatest theft of all time--the taking of the Mona Lisa from the Louvre. Immediately, Alphonse Bertillon, a detective world-renowned for pioneering crime-scene investigation techniques, was called upon to solve the crime. And quickly the Paris police had a suspect: a young Spanish artist named Pablo Picasso....
Browse inside The Crimes of Paris, and learn more about the book and authors at the publisher's website and the official website of Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler.

Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler, a married couple, are the authors of The Monsters, a chronicle of the creation of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. Their novel, In Darkness, Death, won a 2005 Edgar Award.

The Page 69 Test: The Crimes of Paris.

--Marshal Zeringue

What is Brian Foss reading?

This weekend's featured contributor at Writers Read: Brian Foss, author of War Paint: Art, War, State and Identity in Britain, 1939-1945.

His entry begins:
I’ve always got two or three books on the go, and the last couple of months have been no exception. Not long ago I finished T.J. Clark’s The Sight of Death: An Experiment in Art Writing. Like so many other art historians, I’ve been an admirer of Clark’s scholarship for many years. More recently, though, he’s allowed his visual acuity to drive and shine out of his writing as never before. This culminates in The Sight of Death, which records, in diary form, his intense visual examinations of two paintings by seventeenth-century French artist Nicholas Poussin. Looking closely at the two paintings almost every day for many months, Clark began by jotting down general impressions, and then over the ensuing months wrote regular diary entries about his evolving reactions. As time passed he become more and more interested in – even obsessed by– both the details of the paintings and then by the larger themes that grew out of this visual scrutiny. The details were often tiny, easily overlooked bits of imagery, paint application or composition that, for less attentive viewers (which is to say, for almost everyone else), could easily seem minor to the point of inconsequentiality, if indeed they were noticed at all. Reading Clark’s cumulative, day-by-day recordings of his observations constitutes a master class in how to look at art with one’s full attention, on how to build substantial philosophical analyses on the basis of ongoing observations rather than of preconceptions, prejudices and assumptions, and on how ultimately to relate what one sees to one’s socio-political convictions. This book was a treat from beginning to end: a compelling read that gave me no end of lessons in how to look at works of art....[read on]
Brian Foss will soon be leaving his job as Professor of Art History and Associate Dean of the Faculty of Fine Arts at Concordia University in Montreal, and will be taking on a new job as Professor of Art History and Director of the School for Studies in Art and Culture at Carleton University, in Ottawa.

Learn more about Brian Foss' work at his Concordia webpage, and read more about War Paint at the Yale University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: War Paint.

Writers Read: Brian Foss.

--Marshal Zeringue

Five best: books about the immigrant life

Lynn Freed, author of the newly released novel The Servants’ Quarters, named "her favorite books evoking the immigrant life" for the Wall Street Journal.

One book on the list:
Voyage in the Dark
by Jean Rhys
William Morrow, 1935

“It was as if a curtain had fallen, hiding everything I had ever known.... The colours were different, the smells different, the feeling things gave you right down inside yourself was different.” Thus opens Jean Rhys’s most autobiographical novel, “Voyage in the Dark.” Sent to England from her home in the West Indies, Anna Morgan becomes a chorus girl and the mistress of a much older, wealthy Englishman. When he abandons her, she is desolate, adrift in a world where “the houses are all exactly alike, and the streets going north, south, east, west, all exactly alike.” With few resources and nothing to go home to, Anna soon slips into a familiar immigrant’s cycle of drink and despair. What she (and Jean Rhys) never loses, however, is the clarity and freshness of her insights, her relentless eye for hypocrisy.
Read about another book on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 29, 2009

Joshilyn Jackson's "The Girl Who Stopped Swimming," the movie

Now showing at My Book, The Movie: The Girl Who Stopped Swimming by Joshilyn Jackson.

The entry begins:
Writers love to sit around and drink too much cheap wine and cast their favorite actors in the blockbuster movie version of their books. I’ve spent more than one night getting tiddly on Shiraz and casting and recasting everything I’ve ever written, even though in real life, we writers have very little control over it.

That’s probably a good thing, because I’ve never actually seen a book become a movie. Instead, I’ve seen screenwriters and directors and actors take a book as a springboard and make something all their own out of it. Movies can be directly or distantly related to their book-of-origin, but either way, they are absolutely separate works in a different medium by artists other than the author.

In The Girl Who Stopped Swimming, the main character is Laurel Hawthorne, a thirty-something wife, mother, and art quilter whose placid life explodes into chaos on the night she is visited by the ghost of her 14-year old neighbor, Molly Dufresne. The ghost leads Laurel to the real Molly floating lifelessly in the Hawthorne's backyard pool. No one in Laurel’s whitewashed neighborhood is up to solving the unseemly mystery of Molly’s death. Only her wayward, unpredictable sister, Thalia (who has a few ghosts of her own) is right for the task. But calling in a favor from Thalia is like walking straight into a frying pan protected only by Crisco…

I’ve always said that if Michael Caine wanted to make a movie out of The Girl Who Stopped Swimming and play Laurel as a 60 year old drag queen with a heroin addiction, I would say, “That sounds like a really FRESH direction, Mr. Caine. Write me a check!”

But if they did by chance ask me? I’d cast...[read on]
Read excerpts from The Girl Who Stopped Swimming, and learn more about the author and her books at Joshilyn Jackson's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: The Girl Who Stopped Swimming.

My Book, The Movie: The Girl Who Stopped Swimming.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 69: Jean Hanff Korelitz's "Admission"

The current feature at the Page 69 Test: Admission by Jean Hanff Korelitz.

About the book, from the publisher:
"Admissions. Admission. Aren't there two sides to the word? And two opposing sides...It's what we let in, but it's also what we let out."

For years, 38-year-old Portia Nathan has avoided the past, hiding behind her busy (and sometimes punishing) career as a Princeton University admissions officer and her dependable domestic life. Her reluctance to confront the truth is suddenly overwhelmed by the resurfacing of a life-altering decision, and Portia is faced with an extraordinary test. Just as thousands of the nation's brightest students await her decision regarding their academic admission, so too must Portia decide whether to make her own ultimate admission.

Admission is at once a fascinating look at the complex college admissions process and an emotional examination of what happens when the secrets of the past return and shake a woman's life to its core.
Read an excerpt from Admission, and learn more about the book and author at Jean Hanff Korelitz's website.

Jean Hanff Korelitz was raised in New York City and graduated from Dartmouth College and Clare College, Cambridge. She is the author of the novels A Jury of Her Peers (1996), The Sabbathday River (1999), and The White Rose (2005), as well as a children’s novel, Interference Powder (2003) and a book of poems, The Properties of Breath (1988).

The Page 69 Test: Admission.

--Marshal Zeringue

Five of the best books on the financial crash

Tim Bennett, a deputy editor at MoneyWeek, named five of the best books on the latest financial crash.

One title on the list:
Fool's Gold by Gillian Tett

Few financial writers have been more closely followed during this crisis than the British Press Awards Journalist of the Year 2009, Gillian Tett. As The Spectator notes, her "analytical and penetrating" articles for the FT have been compulsory reading in City circles for years. Tett is a former anthropologist and so, as Nicholas Shakespeare notes in The Daily Telegraph, she looks at financiers as if at "a strange Tajikistan tribe".

Here, that tribe is a small team at investment bank JP Morgan who harnessed "computers to create a fiendishly complex means of shifting risk from banks to investors" via a new breed of financial instrument, the credit derivative. Once these contracts, which let banks bet on whether a loan or bond might default, infected the subprime mortgage market, mayhem was all but guaranteed with ill-equipped regulators caught "behind the curve at every stage". Tett says only seven people were tasked with monitoring $4trn in Wall Street assets.

Given the subject, it's not for absolute beginners with its "jargon and stupefying numbers", says Dominic Lawson in The Times. But the human aspect more than compensates: using "raw private communications" between players at JP Morgan creates "pathos as well as pace". Tett offers "no solutions", but her account of the widescale failure to control the derivatives market is "devastating".
Read about another book on Bennett's list.

Related: critic's chart: books on cash crashes and five best: books on financial schemes.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 99: Maria Laurino's "Old World Daughter, New World Mother"

The current feature at the Page 99 Test: Old World Daughter, New World Mother: An Education in Love & Freedom by Maria Laurino.

About the book, from the publisher:
A warm, smart, and witty personal investigation of ethnicity and womanhood.

In the second-generation immigrant home where Maria Laurino grew up, “independent” was a dirty word and “sacrifice” was the ideal and reality of motherhood. But out in the world, Mary Tyler Moore was throwing her hat in the air, personifying the excitement and opportunities of the freedom-loving American career woman. How, then, to reconcile one’s inner Livia Soprano—the archetypal ethnic mother—with a feminist icon?

Combining lived experience with research and reporting on our contemporary work-family dilemmas, Laurino brews an unusual and affirming blend of contemporary and traditional values. No other book has attempted to discuss feminism through the prism of ethnic identity, or to merge the personal and the analytical with such a passionate and intelligent literary voice. Prizing both individual freedom and an Old World in which the dependent young and old are cherished, Laurino makes clear how much the New World offers and how much it has yet to learn.
Learn more about the book at the publisher's website.

Maria Laurino is the author of Were You Always an Italian?, a national bestseller.

The Page 99 Test: Old World Daughter, New World Mother.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 28, 2009

What is David Linden reading?

The current featured contributor to Writers Read: David J. Linden, author of The Accidental Mind: How Brain Evolution Has Given Us Love, Memory, Dreams, and God.

David Linden is Professor of Neuroscience at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and Editor in Chief of the Journal of Neurophysiology.

Visit The Accidental Mind website and read some free chapters from the book.

The Page 99 Test: The Accidental Mind.

Read about the collection of short stories he calls "knee-slapping funny, surreal and profound all at once," at Writers Read: David J. Linden.

--Marshal Zeringue

Top ten relationship novels

William Sutcliffe is the author of New Boy, Are You Experienced?, The Love Hexagon, and Whatever Makes You Happy.

Back in November 2000 he named his top 10 relationship novels for the Guardian. One title on the list:
The Fermata by Nicholson Baker

Baker explores the dividing line between literature and pornography, and much of the time seems to decide that the latter is more interesting. Rarely have I read a more tumescent book.
Read about another novel on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 69: K.J. Egan's "Where It Lies"

The current feature at the Page 69 Test: Where It Lies by K. J. Egan.

About the book, from the publisher:
Jenny Chase loves her job as assistant pro at the Harbor Terrace Country Club. But her idyllic lifestyle is threatened when she discovers the body of a greenskeeper hanging from a rafter in the cart barn. The police rule the death a suicide, but Jenny has her doubts. As evidence of foul play mounts, so does Jenny’s fear for her own life.
Preview Where It Lies, and learn more about the book and author at K. J. Egan's website.

K.J. Egan is the author of five novels and numerous short stories. Writing as Conor Daly, he published a three-book golf mystery series, which also has been translated into German. Two of these novels, Local Knowledge and Buried Lies, received the 1997 Washington Irving Book Award for Fiction.

The Page 69 Test: Where It Lies.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Pg. 99: Rachel M. McCleary's "Global Compassion"

The current feature at the Page 99 Test: Global Compassion: Private Voluntary Organizations and U.S. Foreign Policy Since 1939 by Rachel M. McCleary.

About the book, from the publisher:
Aid organizations like Oxfam, CARE, World Vision, and Catholic Relief Services are known the world over. However, little is known about the relationship between these private voluntary organizations (PVOs) and the federal government, and how truly influential these organizations can be in the realm of foreign policy. Indeed since the end of the Second World War, humanitarian aid has become a key component of U.S. foreign policy and has grown steadily ever since. This history of interaction deflates the common claim that PVOs have been independent from the federal government, and that this independence has only recently been threatened.

Global Compassion is the first truly comprehensive study of PVOs and their complex, often-fraught interaction with the federal government. Rachel McCleary provides an ambitious analysis of the relationship between the two from 1939 to 2005. The book focuses on the work of PVOs from a foreign policy perspective, revealing how federal political pressures shape the field of international relief. McCleary draws on a new and one-of-a-kind data set on the revenue of private voluntary agencies, employing annual reports, State Department documents, and I.R.S. records, to assess the extent to which international relief and development work is becoming a commercial activity. She outlines the increasing financial dependence of these organizations on the federal government and the consequences of that dependency for various types of agencies, as well as the often competing goals of the federal government and religious PVOs. As a result, there is a continuing trend of decreasing federal funds to PVOs and of simultaneously increasing awards to commercial enterprises. Focusing on the interplay between public and private revenue, the discussion ends with the commercialization of foreign aid and the factors most likely to influence the future of PVOs in international relief and development.

In this thought-provoking and rigorously researched work, Rachel McCleary offers a unique, substantive look at an understudied area of U.S. foreign policy and international development, and provides a crucial analysis of what this relationship holds for the future.
Learn more about Global Compassion at the Oxford University Press website.

Rachel M. McCleary is a Senior Research Fellow at the Taubman Center, Harvard Kennedy School of Government, and director of the Political Economy of Religion program.

The Page 99 Test: Global Compassion.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thirteen books that will change the way you look at robots

io9 editor Annalee Newitz compiled a list of "Thirteen Books That Will Change The Way You Look At Robots."

One title on the list:
Alchemy of Stone, by Ekaterina Sedia

Like Night Sessions, Sedia's novel is also a gamechanger in robot fiction. She's written a beautiful novel set on an alternate world that seamlessly blends science, robot technology, and the magic of alchemy. Her protagonist is a clockwork robot named Mattie whose inventor has allowed her to become an independent alchemist (sort of like a pharmacist) but refuses to hand over the key that winds her motors back up. So she remains dependent on him for her very life. When Mattie becomes involved with a revolutionary who opposes her inventor's political party, her struggle for independence takes on a new dimension.
Read about another book on Newitz's list.

The Page 99 Test: The Alchemy of Stone.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 69: Brian D'Amato's "In the Courts of the Sun"

Today's feature at the Page 69 Test: In the Courts of the Sun by Brian D'Amato.

About the book, from the publisher:
A mind-bending, time-bending, zeitgeist-defining novel about the days leading up to December 21, 2012—the day the Maya predicted the world would end

December 21, 2012. The day time stops. Jed DeLanda, a descendant of the Maya living in the year 2012, is a math prodigy who spends his time playing Go against his computer and raking in profits from online trading. (His secret weapon? A Mayan divination game—once used for predicting corn-harvest cycles, now proving very useful in predicting corn futures—that his mother taught him.) But Jed’s life is thrown into chaos when his former mentor, the game theorist Taro, and a mysterious woman named Marena Park, invite him to give his opinion on a newly discovered Mayan codex.

Marena and Taro are looking for a volunteer to travel back to 664 AD to learn more about a “sacrifice game” described in the codex. Jed leaps at the chance, and soon scientists are replicating his brain waves and sending them through a wormhole, straight into the mind of a Mayan king…

Only something goes wrong. Instead of becoming a king, Jed arrives inside a ballplayer named Chacal who is seconds away from throwing himself down the temple steps as a human sacrifice. If Jed can live through the next few minutes, he might just save the world.

Bringing to mind Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon and Gary Jennings’s Aztec, yet entirely unique, In the Courts of the Sun takes you from the distant past to the near future in a brilliant kaleidoscope of ideas.
Read excerpts from In the Courts of the Sun, and learn more about the book and author at Brian D'Amato's website.

The Page 69 Test: In the Courts of the Sun.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Pg. 99: David & Fiona Haslam's "Fat, Gluttony and Sloth"

The current feature at the Page 99 Test: Fat, Gluttony and Sloth: Obesity in Literature, Art and Medicine by David and Fiona Haslam.

About the book:
Historical symbol of wealth and fertility, stigma of the modern West, and currently the world’s second-leading cause of preventable death: despite advances in hygiene, science, and public health, obesity and its corpulent imagery are inescapable reminders of a global epidemic and its manifold incarnations. For the first time, the number of overweight people in the world has overtaken the number of those malnourished and in Fat, Gluttony, and Sloth, the current crisis is put in historical perspective. The authors examine the changing meaning of “fat” in the public consciousness—reconsidering art, literature, and the history of medicine alongside circus freaks, pharmacology, and present-day trends in food and fashion—all in an effort to glean knowledge from examining our heavy past.
Read more about Fat, Gluttony and Sloth at the University of Chicago Press website.

David Haslam is a medical doctor and clinical director of the National Obesity Forum. He is also visiting lecturer at Chester University and a visiting fellow at the postgraduate medical school of Herts & Beds. Fiona Haslam has written numerous articles on medicine and art and is the author of From Hogarth to Rowlandson: Medicine in Art in Eighteenth-Century Britain.

The Page 99 Test: Fat, Gluttony and Sloth.

--Marshal Zeringue

What is Matthew Vollmer reading?

The current featured contributor to Writers Read: Matthew Vollmer, author of the newly released short story collection Future Missionaries of America.

One paragraph from his entry:
Larry Brown's Dirty Work is amazing: best book I've read this year. Basically, it's two Vietnam vets, side by side in a hospital, talking. One of them is a quadruple amputee, the other's just arrived after an accident. The two of them take turns with the narration, recounting their lives and what they've lost. I was stunned by the way Brown harnessed the energy of these voices, the way he was able to evoke the history of two absolutely wrecked lives and sneak in a storyline whose ending had me shaking my head for days.[read on]
Matthew Vollmer's work has appeared in a number of journals and magazines, including Paris Review, Epoch, VQR, Tin House, and Oxford American.

From a recent review of his short story collection, Future Missionaries of America, in the New York Times:
Vollmer's irresistible first collection offers a large cast of yearning characters: some lonely, some lost, some in love and some who, landing on the other side of life's devastations—the loss of spouses, children, parents, lovers, friends, money—now find their grief restive and revolting.... Expertly structured and utterly convincing, these stories represent the arrival of a strong new voice.
Visit Matthew Vollmer's website.

Writers Read: Matthew Vollmer.

--Marshal Zeringue

Ten of the best breakages in literature

At the Guardian, John Mullan named ten of the best breakages in literature.

One title on the list:
Atonement, by Ian McEwan

In a desire-charged tiff, Cecilia and Robbie fight over who will fill a precious vase, a family heirloom which survived being retrieved by a soldier in Flanders and brought all the way back to England. Robbie tries to take it off her. "With a sound like a dry twig snapping, a section of the lip of the vase came away in his hand ..."
Atonement also appears on Mullan's lists of ten of the best weddings in literature and ten of the best identical twins in fiction.

Read about another breakage on Mullan's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 69: Elizabeth J. Duncan's "The Cold Light of Mourning"

The current feature at the Page 69 Test: The Cold Light of Mourning by Elizabeth J. Duncan.

About the book, from the publisher:
Elizabeth J. Duncan spins a charming tale of murder and intrigue in this winning first novel.

The picturesque North Wales market town of Llanelen is shocked when Meg Wynne Thompson, a self-made beauty who has turned out to be something of an unpopular bride, goes missing on her wedding day…and turns up dead. The last person believed to have seen her is manicurist Penny Brannigan, an expatriate Canadian who has lived in North Wales for almost twenty-five years. When Penny notices that something is not quite right at the funeral of her dearest friend, she becomes emotionally invested in the case, and sets out to investigate.

It seems that several people, including the bride’s drunken, abusive father, had reasons to wish Meg dead, but when the trail leads to her groom’s home, an explosive secret will shake the small town.

With its bucolic Welsh setting and vivid, colorful characters, this mystery is sure to delight the most discerning of traditional-mystery fans.
Preview The Cold Light of Mourning, and learn more about the book and author at Elizabeth J. Duncan's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: The Cold Light of Mourning.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 25, 2009

Hillary Jordan's "Mudbound," the movie

Now showing at My Book, The Movie: Mudbound by Hillary Jordan.

The entry begins:
The casting session for Mudbound, The Movie took place in September of 2007, six months before the book came out in hardback, on the front porch of the Blue Mountain Center, an artists colony in the Adirondacks. I was sitting with my friend Tanya Selvaratnam (actress, producer and playwright), taking in the glorious view of the lake and mountains over a glass of red wine. Tanya had just finished reading the galley of the book. She thought it would make a great movie, and that actors would want to do it because there were so many juicy roles. Who, she asked, did I have in mind for the seven main characters?

I hadn’t really thought it through, except for Laura, whom I’d always, from the very early days, imagined played by Laura Linney. She’s the right age for the role, and she’s a chameleon who can look plain as well as pretty. Her intelligence, dignity, and the appearance of vulnerability underlain by inner steel all make her perfect for the role of Laura McAllan. (Now, having seen her as Abigail Adams, I’m even more convinced she should get the part.)

We tossed around a number of candidates for my stolid, landsick Henry and ended up settling on...[read on]
Read an excerpt from Mudbound, and learn more about the author and her work at Hillary Jordan's website and blog.

Hillary Jordan spent fifteen years working as an advertising copywriter before starting to write fiction. She earned her MFA in Creative Writing from Columbia University. Her short fiction has appeared in numerous literary journals, including StoryQuarterly and The Carolina Quarterly.

Watch the trailer for Mudbound (The Book).

The Page 69 Test: Mudbound.

My Book, The Movie: Mudbound.

--Marshal Zeringue

Best books: Lisa See

Lisa See is the author of Peony in Love and the best-selling Snow Flower and the Secret Fan. Her new novel is Shanghai Girls.

She named a best books list for The Week. One title on the list:
The Handyman by Carolyn See (Ballantine, $19).

My favorite of my mother’s novels. While waiting to start art school, Bob becomes a handyman. Going from house to house and disaster to disaster, he discovers that while he’s not very good at fixing things, he’s very good at repairing people’s lives. It’s about the origins of fame, the quirks of destiny, and what it means to be an artist.
Read about another book on Lisa See's list.

The Page 99 Test: Lisa See's Peony in Love.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 99: David Hess' "Localist Movements in a Global Economy"

The current feature at the Page 99 Test: Localist Movements in a Global Economy: Sustainability, Justice, and Urban Development in the United States by David J. Hess.

About the book, from the publisher:
The internationalization of economies and other changes that accompany globalization have brought about a paradoxical reemergence of the local. A significant but largely unstudied aspect of new local-global relationships is the growth of "localist movements"--efforts to reclaim economic and political sovereignty for metropolitan and other subnational regions. In Localist Movements in a Global Economy, David Hess offers an overview of localism in the United States and assesses its potential to address pressing global problems of social justice and environmental sustainability.

Since the 1990s, more than 100 local business organizations have formed in the United States, and there are growing efforts to build local ownership in the retail, food, energy, transportation, and media industries. In this first social science study of localism, Hess adopts an interdisciplinary approach that combines theoretical reflection, empirical research, and policy analysis. His perspective is not that of an uncritical localist advocate; he draws on his new empirical research to assess the extent to which localist policies can address sustainability and justice issues.

After a theoretical discussion of sustainability, the global corporate economy, and economic development, Hess looks at four specific forms of localism: "buy local" campaigns; urban agriculture; local ownership of electricity and transportation; and alternative and community media. He then examines "global localism"—transnational local-to-local supply chains—and other economic policies and financial instruments that would create an alternative economic structure. Localism is not a panacea for globalization, he concludes, but a crucial ingredient in projects to build more democratic, just, and sustainable politics.
Read excerpts from Localist Movements in a Global Economy, and learn more about the book at the MIT Press website.

David J. Hess is Professor of Science and Technology Studies and Director of the Program in Ecological Economics, Values, and Policy at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He is the author of Alternative Pathways in Science and Industry (MIT Press, 2007) and many other books.

The Page 99 Test: Localist Movements in a Global Economy.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 24, 2009

The 13 hottest summer reads

Sara Nelson, a critic for The Daily Beast, former editor in chief of Publishers Weekly, and author of the bestselling So Many Books, So Little Time, named her "13 hottest summer reads" for The Daily Beast.

One book on her list:
The Girl Who Played with Fire
by Stieg Larsson

In an American mystery writer’s hands, this novel—the second in a trilogy that began with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo—might read like a Law & Order episode. But the late Swedish journalist-turned-novelist’s brooding tone and the fantastically odd bisexual geek heroine Lisbeth Sander make this everything the folks at Knopf have been crowing that it is: riveting, unputdownable, a sure bestseller.
Read about another title on Nelson's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

What is Sara Malton reading?

The current featured contributor to Writers Read: Sara Malton, author of Forgery in Nineteenth-Century Literature and Culture: Fictions of Finance from Dickens to Wilde.

Her entry begins:
I envision the summer as a time for at last reading what I’ve been forced to put off all year long. Yet when I thought about them collectively, I realized that the books that I have on the go are in fact not, as I would have hoped, something altogether different from my daily reality as a professor of English Literature during the period from September to April. Most of them have something to do with academic life, with teaching, or with some of my most beloved canonical authors. Perhaps, then, these books serve as apt transitions from the academic term to the summer months. I suppose I need to ease into it slowly.

I am reading Zadie Smith’s novel, On Beauty, a satire on academic and family life that is said to be based loosely on Howard’s End. While Smith’s wit and insights about anxiety-ridden academe are right on the mark, I do ask myself why....[read on]
Sara Malton is Assistant Professor of English at Saint Mary’s University, where she specializes in nineteenth-century literature, culture, law, and finance. Her work has appeared inVictorian Literature and Culture, Studies in the Novel, and The European Romantic Review. She is the recipient of numerous awards, among them the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council Fellowships.

Visit Sara Malton's faculty webapge, and learn more about Forgery in Nineteenth-Century Literature and Culture at the publisher's website.

Writers Read: Sara Malton.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 69: Kamran Pasha's "Mother of the Believers"

The current feature at the Page 69 Test: Mother of the Believers: A Novel of the Birth of Islam by Kamran Pasha.

About the book, from the publisher:
Deep in the heart of seventh-century Arabia, a new prophet named Muhammad has arisen. As his message of enlightenment sweeps through Arabia and unifies the warring tribes, his young wife Aisha recounts Muhammad's astonishing transformation from prophet to warrior to statesman. But just after the moment of her husband's greatest triumph -- the conquest of the holy city of Mecca -- Muhammad falls ill and dies in Aisha's arms. A young widow, Aisha finds herself at the center of the new Muslim empire and becomes by turns a teacher, political leader, and warrior.

Written in beautiful prose and meticulously researched, Mother of the Believers is the story of an extraordinary woman who was destined to help usher Islam into the world.
Read an excerpt from Mother of the Believers, and learn more about the book and author at Kamran Pasha's website and blog.

Kamran Pasha is a writer and producer for NBC's new television series Kings, which is a modern day retelling of the Biblical tale of King David. Previously he served as a writer on NBC's remake of Bionic Woman, and on Showtime Network's Golden Globe nominated series Sleeper Cell, about a Muslim FBI agent who infiltrates a terrorist group.

The Page 69 Test: Mother of the Believers.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Five books on financial schemes

Frank Partnoy is the author of F.I.A.S.C.O.: The Inside Story of a Wall Street Trader and Infectious Greed: How Deceit and Greed Corrupted the Financial Markets. He has worked as an investment banker at Morgan Stanley and a corporate lawyer, and has testified as an expert before both the United States Senate and House of Representatives. A graduate of Yale Law School, he currently teaches law at the University of San Diego. His new book is The Match King: Ivar Kreuger, The Financial Genius Behind a Century of Wall Street Scandals.

For the Wall Street Journal, Partnoy named a five best list of books on financial schemes.

One title on the list:
Memoirs of Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds

Are crowds wise or mad? Witnesses to witch hunts, religious crusades or investment bubbles tend to vote for madness. Charles Mackay certainly did. Mackay (1814-89) compiled this treatise on a wide variety of mass delusions, including the belief in alchemy, the enthusiasm for dueling and the appetite for Nostradamus’s prophecies. But the book is most memorable for its discussion of financial lunacy, such as those two infamous 17th-century bubbles, the tulip mania in Holland and the South Sea Co. frenzy in England. “Men, it has been well said, think in herds,” Mackay writes. “It will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, and one by one.” Some of his stories might be apocryphal, but all are entertaining, particularly the one about the poor sailor who ate a prized tulip bulb, thinking it was an onion.
Read about another book on Partnoy's list.

Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds also appears on Jonah Lehrer's list of the five best books on irrational decision-making.

The Page 99 Test: The Match King.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 99: Dan Nexon's "The Struggle for Power in Early Modern Europe"

This weekend's feature at the Page 99 Test: The Struggle for Power in Early Modern Europe: Religious Conflict, Dynastic Empires, and International Change by Daniel H. Nexon.

About the book, from the publisher:
Scholars have long argued over whether the 1648 Peace of Westphalia, which ended more than a century of religious conflict arising from the Protestant Reformations, inaugurated the modern sovereign-state system. But they largely ignore a more fundamental question: why did the emergence of new forms of religious heterodoxy during the Reformations spark such violent upheaval and nearly topple the old political order? In this book, Daniel Nexon demonstrates that the answer lies in understanding how the mobilization of transnational religious movements intersects with--and can destabilize--imperial forms of rule.

Taking a fresh look at the pivotal events of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries--including the Schmalkaldic War, the Dutch Revolt, and the Thirty Years' War--Nexon argues that early modern "composite" political communities had more in common with empires than with modern states, and introduces a theory of imperial dynamics that explains how religious movements altered Europe's balance of power. He shows how the Reformations gave rise to crosscutting religious networks that undermined the ability of early modern European rulers to divide and contain local resistance to their authority. In doing so, the Reformations produced a series of crises in the European order and crippled the Habsburg bid for hegemony.

Nexon's account of these processes provides a theoretical and analytic framework that not only challenges the way international relations scholars think about state formation and international change, but enables us to better understand global politics today.
Read an excerpt from The Struggle for Power in Early Modern Europe, and learn more about the book at the Princeton University Press website.

Daniel H. Nexon is assistant professor of government and foreign service at Georgetown University.

Visit Nexon's Georgetown webpage and group blog, The Duck of Minerva.

The Page 99 Test: The Struggle for Power in Early Modern Europe.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 22, 2009

Pg. 69: David Cristofano's "The Girl She Used to Be"

The current feature at the Page 69 Test: The Girl She Used to Be by David Cristofano.

About the book, from the publisher:
When Melody Grace McCartney was six years old, she and her parents witnessed an act of violence so brutal that it changed their lives forever. The federal government lured them into the Witness Protection Program with the promise of safety, and they went gratefully. But the program took Melody's name, her home, her innocence, and, ultimately, her family. She's been May Adams, Karen Smith, Anne Johnson, and countless others--everyone but the one person she longs to be: herself. So when the feds spirit her off to begin yet another new life in another town, she's stunned when a man confronts her and calls her by her real name. Jonathan Bovaro, the mafioso sent to hunt her down, knows her, the real her, and it's a dangerous thrill that Melody can't resist. He's insistent that she's just a pawn in the government's war against the Bovaro family. But can she trust her life and her identity to this vicious stranger whose acts of violence are legendary?
Read an excerpt from The Girl She Used to Be, and learn more about the book and author at David Cristofano's website.

David Cristofano has worked for different branches of the Federal Government for over a decade. His short works have been published by Like Water Burning and McSweeneys.

The Page 69 Test: The Girl She Used to Be.

--Marshal Zeringue

What is Lyndsay Faye reading?

The current featured contributor to Writers Read: Lyndsay Faye, author of the acclaimed debut novel, Dust and Shadow: An Account of the Ripper Killings by Dr. John H. Watson.

The entry opens:
My favorite mysteries are almost always historical, and a great comment made by fellow author Marco Conelli at Southhampton's MAYHEM festival last weekend clarified one of the reasons for me: technology (from pinning your location through your cell phone to finding matching fibers in a suspect's car) is a huge buzzkill. For the real police, technology is wonderful, but for the author it can be deadly. It's simply too easy. Where is the joy in telling a suspect his alibi was busted by his own car's GPS system? As a result, I'm always delighted to find a good period mystery, and greatly enjoyed Bleeding Heart Square by Andrew Taylor, which I finished a couple of days ago.

There are several things going for this novel, not least of which is Andrew Taylor's spare, cutting prose, but one that interests me for its sheer cleverness is his use of diary entries. They're a classic device, of course, but presented here with a cunning twist--the omniscient narrator addresses you directly, presenting a passage for you to read near the beginning of each chapter. And while the murder mystery is certainly compelling, it's not more compelling than figuring out who you is. Or are, rather. It sounds rather existential without an example, and one of the best is at the beginning: "Sometimes you frighten yourself. So what is it exactly? A punishment? A distraction? A relief? You're not sure. You tell yourself that it happened more than four years ago, that it doesn't matter anymore and nothing you can do can change a thing. But you don't listen, do you? All you do is go back to that nasty little green book." The diary entry follows, but the commentary has already set an ominous tone....[read on]
Read an excerpt from Dust and Shadow: An Account of the Ripper Killings by Dr. John H. Watson, and learn more about the author and her novel at Lyndsay Faye's website.

Writers Read: Lyndsay Faye.

--Marshal Zeringue

Best debut crime novels: 2009

Bill Ott named his ten best list of 2009 debut crime novels (defined as books reviewed in Booklist between May 1, 2008, and April 15, 2009).

One title on Ott's list:
Takeover. By Lisa Black. 2008. Morrow, $24.95 (9780061544453).

Corpse don’t frighten Cleveland forensic scientist Theresa MacLean. Living, breathing criminals do. So why does she agree to become a hostage in exchange for her fiancé, a police officer held at the Federal Reserve Building by two would-be robbers? A tightly plotted, relentlessly suspenseful thriller from a former fingerprint analyst with the Cleveland coroner’s office.
Read about another novel on Ott's list.

The Page 69 Test: Takeover.

My Book, The Movie: Takeover.

Also see: Best crime novels: 2009.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Pg. 99: Linda Himelstein's "The King of Vodka"

The current feature at the Page 99 Test: The King of Vodka: The Story of Pyotr Smirnov and the Upheaval of an Empire by Linda Himelstein.

About the book, from the publisher:
In this sweeping history of vodka scion Pyotr Smirnov and his family, distinguished journalist Linda Himelstein plumbs a great riddle of Russian history through the story of a humble serf who rose to create one of the most celebrated business empires the world has ever known. At the center of this vivid narrative, Pyotr Smirnov comes to life as a hero of wonderful complexity—a man of intense ambition and uncanny business sense, a patriarch of a family that would help define Russian society and suffer from the Revolution's aftermath, and a loyalist to a nation that would one day honor him as a treasure of the state.

Born in a small village in 1831, Smirnov relied on vodka—a commodity that in many ways defines Russia—to turn a life of scarcity and anonymity into one of immense wealth and international recognition. Starting from the backrooms and side streets of 19th century Moscow, Smirnov exploited a golden age of emancipation and brilliant grassroots marketing strategies to popularize his products and ensconce his brand within the thirsts and imaginations of drinkers around the world. His vodka would be gulped in the taverns of Russia and Europe, praised with accolades at World Fairs, and become a staple on the tables of Tsars. His improbable ascent—set against a sobriety crusade supported by Chekhov and Tolstoy, mounting political uprisings and labor strikes, the eventual monopolization of the vodka trade by the state—would crumble amidst the chaos of the Bolshevik revolution. Only a set of bizarre coincidences—including an incredible prison escape by one of Smirnov's sons in 1919—would prevent Smirnov's legacy from fading into oblivion.

Set against a backdrop of political and ideological currents that would determine the course of global history—from the fall of the Tsars to the rise of Communism, from vodka's popularization by none other than James Bond to Smirnoff's emergence as a multi-billion dollar brand—Smirnov's story of triumph and tragedy is a captivating historical touchstone. The King of Vodka is much more than a biography of an extraordinary man. It is a work of narrative history on an epic scale.
Browse inside The King of Vodka, and learn more about the book and author at Linda Himelstein's website.

The Page 99 Test: The King of Vodka.

--Marshal Zeringue

Vonda N. McIntyre's "Dreamsnake," the movie

Now showing at My Book, The Movie: Dreamsnake by Vonda N. McIntyre.

The entry begins:
Though I’ve imagined Dreamsnake as a movie, and I wrote a script for it, until recently no actor jumped off the screen to tell me she could play Snake, the healer, the protagonist of the book.

A number of the book’s characters are a challenge to cast.

Arevin, who falls in love with Snake, has to be played by someone with both strength and sensitivity. Critics of Dreamsnake have accused the men in it of being weak, but it seems to me that those critics can’t tell the difference between a weak character and a secondary one. Especially when the book was first published, and especially in science fiction, critics weren’t used to a man as secondary to a woman protagonist.

Arevin is an incredibly strong character: he leaves everything and everyone he knows, venturing into a post-apocalyptic world, in order to correct a wrong.

Matthew Gray Gubler (Dr. Spencer Reid in Criminal Minds) has that strength, and the emotional chops to make Arevin believable. He can also...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Vonda N. McIntyre's website.

My Book, The Movie: Dreamsnake.

--Marshal Zeringue

Top ten fruit scenes in literature

Adam Leith Gollner is the author of The Fruit Hunters : A Story of Nature, Adventure, Commerce and Obsession.

For the Guardian, he named his top 10 fruit scenes in literature.

Number One on his list:
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

"She had painted lips and was holding in her hollowed hands a beautiful, banal, Eden-red apple… She tossed it up into the sun-dusted air, and caught it – it made a polished plop. Humbert Humbert intercepted the apple…"

Fruits and forbidden carnality go way back, an association Nabokov exploits giddily in this climactic scene. It's a Sunday morning in June. Lolita is wearing bobbysocks and a pink cotton dress. Humbert wakes, puts on his purple silk dressing down, and goes downstairs in search of Lo. He finds her pawing a Red Delicious apple, and slithers next to her on the candy-striped davenport. Sprawling herself athwart Humbert, the tanned nymphet devours her immemorial fruit, arousing "a hidden tumor of unspeakable passion". Humbert cannot contain his surreptitious euphoria: "I entered a plane of being where nothing mattered, save the infusion of joy brewed within my body."
Read about another title on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Pg. 69: Clancy Martin's "How to Sell"

The current feature at the Page 69 Test: How to Sell by Clancy Martin.

About the book, from the publisher:
Bobby Clark is just sixteen when he drops out of school to follow his big brother, Jim, into the jewelry business. Bobby idolizes Jim and is in awe of Jim’s girlfriend, Lisa, the best saleswoman at the Fort Worth Deluxe Diamond Exchange.

What follows is the story of a young man’s education in two of the oldest human passions, love and money. Through a dark, sharp lens, Clancy Martin captures the luxury business in all its exquisite vulgarity and outrageous fraud, finding in the diamond-and-watch trade a metaphor for the American soul at work.
Learn more about the book and author at the Farrar, Straus and Giroux website and Clancy Martin's faculty webpage.

Clancy Martin is Associate Professor of Philosophy at UMKC. He works on 19th and 20th century European philosophy after Kant, the intersections of philosophy and literature, and the ethics of advertising and selling. He has authored, coauthored and edited several books in philosophy,and has published over two dozen articles and reviews on Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Romanticism, and the virtue of truthfulness. In 2007 his story "The Best Jeweler" won The Pushcart Prize.

The Page 69 Test: How to Sell.

--Marshal Zeringue

What is Howard Shrier reading?

The current featured contributor to Writers Read: Howard Shrier, author of Buffalo Jump and the forthcoming High Chicago, both featuring Toronto investigator Jonah Geller.

One book from the entry:
Right now I'm reading Infinite Jest, by the late David Foster Wallace. I'm about 200 pages in, which has taken weeks. It's incredibly dense reading that requires care and focus to appreciate. It's set in a tennis academy near Boston, as well as a rehab centre, though it's not yet clear who the voices in the centre are. He overwrites sometimes, explaining things in such detail and depth of language (keep a dictionary handy), showing off in ways that I think will deter many readers. But the writing is extraordinary.[read on]
Howard Shrier was born and raised in Montreal and has worked in a wide variety of media, including magazine and radio journalism, theatre and television, sketch comedy and improv.

Visit Howard Shrier's website.

Writers Read: Howard Shrier.

--Marshal Zeringue

Ten best crime novels: 2009

Bill Ott named his ten best list of 2009 crime novels (defined as books reviewed in Booklist between May 1, 2008, and April 15, 2009).

One title on Ott's list:
Liars Anonymous. By Louise Ure. 2009. St. Martin’s/Minotaur, $25.95 (9780312375867).

Jessica Dancing Gamage got away with murder and has been living with it ever since. Now the past comes back full force when she is forced to return to her home turf. This masterfully constructed psychological thriller, which rests on fiercely moral underpinnings, cements Ure’s position alongside such masters as Ruth Rendell and Minette Walters.
Read about another book on Ott's list.

The Page 69 Test: Liars Anonymous.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 99: John G. McCurdy's "Citizen Bachelors"

The current feature at the Page 99 Test: Citizen Bachelors: Manhood and the Creation of the United States by John G. McCurdy.

About the book, from the publisher:
In 1755 Benjamin Franklin observed “a man without a wife is but half a man” and since then historians have taken Franklin at his word. In Citizen Bachelors, John Gilbert McCurdy demonstrates that Franklin's comment was only one side of a much larger conversation. Early Americans vigorously debated the status of unmarried men and this debate was instrumental in the creation of American citizenship.

In a sweeping examination of the bachelor in early America, McCurdy fleshes out a largely unexamined aspect of the history of gender. Single men were instrumental to the settlement of the United States and for most of the seventeenth century their presence was not particularly problematic. However, as the colonies matured, Americans began to worry about those who stood outside the family. Lawmakers began to limit the freedoms of single men with laws requiring bachelors to pay higher taxes and face harsher penalties for crimes than married men, while moralists began to decry the sexual immorality of unmarried men. But many resisted these new tactics, including single men who reveled in their hedonistic reputations by delighting in sexual horseplay without marital consequences. At the time of the Revolution, these conflicting views were confronted head-on. As the incipient American state needed men to stand at the forefront of the fight for independence, the bachelor came to be seen as possessing just the sort of political, social, and economic agency associated with citizenship in a democratic society. When the war was won, these men demanded an end to their unequal treatment, sometimes grudgingly, and the citizen bachelor was welcomed into American society.

Drawing on sources as varied as laws, diaries, political manifestos, and newspapers, McCurdy shows that in the course of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the bachelor was a simultaneously suspicious and desirable figure: suspicious because he was not tethered to family and household obligations yet desirable because he was free to study, devote himself to political office, and fight and die in battle. He suggests that this dichotomy remains with us to this day and thus it is in early America that we find the origins of the modern-day identity of the bachelor as a symbol of masculine independence. McCurdy also observes that by extending citizenship to bachelors, the founders affirmed their commitment to individual freedom, a commitment that has subsequently come to define the very essence of American citizenship.
Read more about Citizen Bachelors at the Cornell University Press website.

Learn more about the author and his scholarship at John G. McCurdy's faculty webpage.

The Page 99 Test: Citizen Bachelors.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Pg. 69: Matthew Aaron Goodman's "Hold Love Strong"

The current feature at the Page 69 Test: Hold Love Strong by Matthew Aaron Goodman.

About the book, from the publisher:
In this poignant tale of self-discovery, a young man struggles to survive the New York City housing projects in the face of familial, communal, and personal devastation.

Born to a thirteen-year-old in the bathroom of his family's small apartment, Abraham Sing leton enters a world laden with the obstacles inherent in an impoverished community. In spite of the crack epidemic and the HIV crisis that ravage their neighborhood, the Singleton family -- cousins, an uncle, an aunt, Abraham, and his mother -- is held together by Abraham's heroic grandmother, whose deep faith and stoic nature have always given them a sense of wholeness and hope. But when the family goes through several harrowing losses, not even his grandmother may be strong enough to lead them through.

At the center of this story is Abraham, the youngest of the Singletons. Deeply intuitive and cerebral, he is determined to thrive in a place that has destroyed the dreams of those around him. College means opportunity, yet it also means leaving behind those he loves. Abraham's journey into adulthood will break his heart but ultimately offer the possibility of redemption.

In this haunting, lyrical, and evocative novel, Matthew Goodman composes a paean to the power of family and belonging in the African-American community. Hold Love Strong is a spellbinding coming-of-age tale about love, hope, and the will to survive, and a stunning universal story about the incredible capacity of the human spirit.
Read an excerpt from Hold Love Strong, and learn more about the book and author at Matthew Aaron Goodman's website.

The Page 69 Test: Hold Love Strong.

--Marshal Zeringue