Monday, March 31, 2008

Ann Cleeves

Ann Cleeves was twice shortlisted for the CWA Gold Dagger Award before winning the first Duncan Lawrie Dagger Award last year for Raven Black.

The second Shetland book, White Nights, will be released this week in the UK and in September in the US.

Last week I asked Cleeves what she was reading. Her reply:
Well, I love European crime in translation. I've been asked to interview the Norwegian writer Karin Fossum at Crime Fest in Bristol in June, so I've been re-reading her backlist and catching up on her most recent titles. Her new book Broken isn't really crime fiction, but it is very creepy. It's about the process of imagination, I think. About how writers write.

Recently I was sent review copies of a new Swedish crime writer Mari Jungstedt. Perhaps because her books are set on an island (Gotland) and at different seasons of the year, her editor thought I might feel at home with the work! There was a lot in the books to enjoy, but I did get increasingly annoyed by a very clunky translation.

After all that northern gloom it was a great treat to move onto another favourite: Andrea Camilleri. These novels take me immediately to a warmer place, where food and wine play a central role in the action, where the sun shines. I love the central character, Salvo Montalbano, the Sicilian setting and the humour. OK, so the plots might not hold together brilliantly but that doesn't matter to me. Best of all, the translation by poet Stephen Sartarelli is superb, a work of art in its own right.
Visit Cleeves's website and her online diary.

The Page 99 Test: Raven Black.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Jeremi Suri

Jeremi Suri is a history professor at the University of Wisconsin. His publications include The Global Revolutions of 1968, Power and Protest: Global Revolution and the Rise of Détente, and Henry Kissinger and the American Century.

Earlier this week I asked him what he was reading. His reply:
As I travel and lecture about Henry Kissinger, I am reading about another famous diplomat of the last forty years: Sergio Vieira de Mello. Samantha Power's new biography, Chasing the Flame, evocatively captures the experiences of this consummate United Nations diplomat. Vieira de Mello spent his entire career in the UN, overseeing one humanitarian relief and peacekeeping operation after another. He was in Cambodia, Bosnia, Kosovo, East Timor, and Iraq. He died tragically in one of the first major suicide attacks in Baghdad in 2003. Power's book explores the difficulties of peacemaking and the limits of United Nations effectiveness in our contemporary world.

I am also reading Nicholas Carr's provocative book, The Big Switch. Carr analyzes how we are living through a second revolution in power comparable to the development of mass electrical utilities in the late nineteenth century. In our contemporary world, computing power is migrating to large utilities like Google. This democratization of computing power makes it cheaper, but also more open to monopoly and manipulation. Carr's book wonderfully mixes historical analysis with future prognostication.
Learn more about Henry Kissinger and the American Century, and read an excerpt, at the Harvard University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Henry Kissinger and the American Century.

Author Interviews: Jeremi Suri.

David M. Kennedy on Henry Kissinger and the American Century:

This remarkable book is far more than a biography of Henry Kissinger. By probing Kissinger's personal background and intellectual formation as well as his often cunning and frequently controversial statecraft, Jeremi Suri brilliantly illuminates both the character of Kissinger the man and the nature of the turbulent and tension-racked age in which he lived and did so much--for better or worse--to shape.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Peter Corris

Peter Corris, "the godfather of Australian crime fiction," is the author of the acclaimed Cliff Hardy series as well as non-crime books such as The Journal of Fletcher Christian (2005).

Last year he applied the Page 99 Test to Appeal Denied.

Earlier this week I asked him what he was reading. His reply:
My reading lately has been dictated by media responsibilities and the constant need to make money. I recently read and reviewed Penelope Nelson's novel, Bligh's Daughter for the Weekend Australian. A modest book, full of interesting female insights into life in the infant colony of New South Wales. Some serious shortcomings resulting from its being virtually self-published, but I gave it a pretty good rap.

I'm to appear on ABC TV's Tuesday book club program in a few weeks. The two books to be read by the participants are Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson. It would be close to 50 years since I first read the
Hemingway book. I've been a Hemingway fan all my life while preferring some books to others. His short story 'Fifty Grand' I count as one of 2 all-time best in my experience. I was mightily impressed by A Farewell to Arms all over again - easy to see what a breakthrough book it was in style and content. Still atmospheric and powerful after all these years.

I'm about half way through the Larsson. Scandinavian crime writers are all the rage at the moment. They have the bleakness of the climate on their side - crime writing requiring an element of bleakness. I'm enjoying the story but I have feeling, at over 500 pages, that the book is a bit padded.
Read The Page 99 Test: Appeal Denied, and learn more about the full Cliff Hardy series and Peter Corris's other fiction and non-fiction at his website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Katherine Ashenburg

Katherine Ashenburg is the prize-winning author of three non-fiction books and hundreds of articles on subjects that range from travel to mourning customs to architecture.

Her latest book is The Dirt on Clean: An Unsanitized History. From the Publishers Weekly review: "Brimming with lively anecdotes, this well-researched, smartly paced and endearing history of Western cleanliness holds a welcome mirror up to our intimate selves, revealing deep-seated desires and fears spanning 2000-plus years."

Last week I asked her what she was reading. Her reply:
This reaches me in London, where I am doing publicity for Clean, as my new book, called The Dirt on Clean: An Unsanitized History in North America, is titled in Britain. While here, I am rereading Dickens' Nicholas Nickleby for the first time in, maybe, 35 years. The practical reason is that, when I return to Toronto, I am going to see Nicholas Nickleby, the play, and thought it would be good to refresh my memory. Another practical reason, which didn't occur to me until I packed, was that while usually I travel with several books, it is much more convenient to carry one, even though this one has 770 pages! I'm delighted with my choice: early Dickens (this is his 3rd novel) reads quickly, is packed with incident and humour. It's fun for me to remember famous set pieces and funny bits, and to come upon other parts (sometimes whole chapters) that seem completely new.

I do have to admit that I am varying the Dickens with a few other things -- a guide to Stockholm, where I am going for Easter weekend, and a new Spanish mystery, given to me by my publishers here, Profile. It's called Tattoo, by Manuel Vázquez Montalbán, and will be published this year. The detective, based in Barcelona, has a taste for good food, and Amsterdam, two favourites of mine.
Read more about The Dirt on Clean, and visit Katherine Ashenburg's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Nathaniel Rich

Nathaniel Rich has published essays and criticism in The New York Review of Books, Vanity Fair, The New York Times Book Review, The Los Angeles Times Book Review, The Nation, The New Republic, and Slate. He is senior editor at The Paris Review.

Of Rich's forthcoming novel, The Mayor's Tongue, Stephen King wrote: "This is an elegantly-structured, brilliantly-told novel, by turns terrifying, touching, and wildly funny, and always generous and magical."

I recently asked Rich what he was reading. His reply:

A friend just sent me Joseph Moncure March’s 1928 prose poem, The Wild Party, which tells the story of a bunch of floozies and broken-nosed wiseguys who get together for a drunken orgy. The book was banned at the time of its publication, but reclaimed from obscurity by Art Spiegelman, who illustrated a new edition that Pantheon published in 1999. (Spiegelman seems to have particularly relished the chance to draw the character of Queenie, a sexed-up blond vaudeville dancer who appears naked, in numerous poses, throughout the book). March’s schoolboy rhymes give the sordid subject matter a strangely pleasant menace:

The candles flared: the shadows sprang tall,

Leapt goblin-like from wall to wall;


Mimicking those invited.

The noise was like great hosts at war:

They shouted; they laughed:

They shrieked: they swore:

They stamped and pounded their feet on the floor:

And they clung together in fierce embraces,
And danced and lurched with savage faces

That were wet

With sweat:

Their eyes were glassy and set.

I also recently read Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle—predictable, preachy, grim, yet totally absorbing. I was surprised that John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces turned out to be tedious, but was revived by a re-reading of Flann O’Brien’s At Swim-Two-Birds, one of my favorite books and the funniest one I know.
Rich wrote in Slate: "O'Brien's lack of readership [compared with Beckett's and Joyce's] is particularly surprising since of the holy Irish trinity, he is by far the funniest. His masterpiece, At Swim-Two-Birds (1939), has the singular distinction of being consistently laugh-out-loud funny, even on a second or third read, even 70 years after its publication. Many readers today regard Ulysses or the Molloy trilogy in a daze of stultification or with mild terror at the novels' calculated efforts to frustrate narrative convention. Yet it would take a reader of calcified heart to read O'Brien's best work without laughing his face off." [read more]

Visit Nathaniel Rich's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Robert Bryce

Robert Bryce has written for dozens of publications including Atlantic Monthly, Slate, New York Times, Washington Post, The Guardian, The Nation and The American Conservative. His new book is Gusher of Lies: The Dangerous Delusions of “Energy Independence.” In a recent review of the book, William Grimes of the New York Times calls Bryce “hard-nosed” and “an equal-opportunity smiter” of energy myths. Grimes goes on to say that Bryce “reveals himself in the end as something of a visionary and perhaps even a revolutionary.”

Last week I asked him what he was reading. His reply:
Since I write about energy, I am always reading books about energy-related topics. Among the most interesting books of that genre that I've read lately is Jevons' Paradox and the Myth of Resource Efficiency Improvements, by John M. Polimeni, Kozo Mayumi, Mario Giampetro, and Blake Alcott. The book's thesis is spelled out on page 3, where the authors state, “We aim to show that increased energy efficiency leads to increased demand and consumption of energy.”

It's counterintuitive that efficiency increases energy use, but their book is one of numerous studies that confirm the findings of William Stanley Jevons, a British economist, who, in 1865 published a book called The Coal Question, which contains what is now known as the Jevons Paradox: “It is wholly a confusion of ideas to suppose that the economical use of fuels is equivalent to a diminished consumption. The very contrary is the truth.”

Since that time, Jevons's work has been examined and re-examined and no reputable scientist has ever refuted it. The Jevons Paradox is perhaps the most important, and yet least understood, concept in the energy business and it has profound implications for the future of the global economy.

I recently finished reading Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman, by James Gleick. I’m a big fan of Gleick’s. His book on Isaac Newton was brilliant. And in this bio of Feynman, who was one of the midwives of the atomic bomb, Gleick illustrates just how important Feynman’s thinking has been to our modern understanding of physics, and therefore, of energy. Feynman grappled with the big questions about matter, science, and the quest for human knowledge and understanding. One of my favorite parts of Gleick’s book comes early on, when he talks about Feynman’s effort to distill human understanding of science into as short a passage as possible. Feynman posed himself this question: what if all scientific knowledge were lost in a cataclysm? What statement would convey the most knowledge in the fewest words to the next generations? Feynman proposed this: “All things are made of atoms – little particles that move around in perpetual motion, attracting each other when they are a little distance apart, but repelling upon being squeezed into one another….In that one little sentence , you will see, there is an enormous amount of information about the world, if just a little imagination and thinking are applied.”

Gleick is brilliant. For me, he’s a little like Mark Twain in that when I read his stuff, it whispers to me that I should perhaps quit what I’m doing because I’ll just never be that good.

One non-energy book that I have not yet finished, but am savoring, is Cullen Murphy's book, Are We Rome? The Fall of an Empire and the Fate of America. It's a short book, only about 200 pages. It’s a remarkably concise and thought-provoking book. Murphy draws numerous parallels between the Roman Empire and the American regime. I was motivated to buy the book after I heard Murphy speak here in Austin. In his speech, he said that the U.S. military was “both too big and too small.” That is, it’s too big to be affordable and yet too small to be able to accomplish the many tasks that it has been assigned.

Books that I’ve just begun include Rashid Khalidi’s Resurrecting Empire: Western Footprints and America’s Perilous Path in the Middle East, and Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky. Khalidi’s book is important because it’s really about oil politics. I bought Kurlansky’s book because salt is the mineral commodity which, for millennia, was the modern-day equivalent of oil. America’s laws governing mineral rights were shaped, in large part, by laws governing salt deposits.

Visit Robert Bryce's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 17, 2008

Ben Smith

Ben Smith blogs on the 2008 presidential race, with a focus on the Democratic candidates, for Politico.

Last week I asked him what he was reading. His reply:
I picked up the habit from my grandfather of alternating genre fiction and higher brow stuff, so the two books I finished most recently are Zadie Smith's On Beauty and John Le Carré's latest.

On Beauty is set at a liberal arts college outside Boston, and framed by two dueling professors of African-American studies -- one white leftist, and a West Indian conservative, and their families. That sounds kind of dour, but Smith manages to write about race without making her characters stereotypes or preaching. The characters are funny and their manias, if sometimes in caricature, are authentic.

The Le Carré book, The Mission Song, I'm sad to report, is his worst I've read. He's notoriously gotten preachier in recent years, but this one was the first that was really a slog for me in places. The main character is an Irish-Congolese interpreter caught between his two worlds, interpreting for British elite coup plotters who -- shock -- turn out not to be as high-minded as they seem. He has a romance with an exotic and pure African nurse. The whole thing is kind of hard to take.

While we're on spy fiction, though, I have had a lot of fun lately reading Charles McCarry, the American cold war spy novelist (and spy) who's having a bit of a revival at the moment. The Tears of Autumn, his classic conspiracy-theory version of the Kennedy assassination, is weirdly compelling -- it involves, basically, retribution for American meddling in Vietnam. Until recently, his books were very hard to find -- a 25-cent paperback would be up to a few hundred dollars on Alibris. But Overlook Press, which must have noticed the demand, is bringing them all out again, along with some new ones, which is great.
Read Ben Smith's blog at Politico.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Pamela Erens

Pamela Erens's novel, The Understory (Ironweed Press), released in Fall 2007, was the winner of the Ironweed Press Fiction Prize and is a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for First Fiction. Her short fiction has been nominated for two Pushcart Prizes and has appeared or is forthcoming in Chicago Review, Boston Review, The Literary Review,, Bellingham Review, Upstreet, Skidrow Penthouse and Redivider.

I recently asked Erens what she was reading. Her reply:
I’ve just finished two novels that moved me deeply. The first was Evan Connell’s Mrs. Bridge, written in 1959. I’d already read the sequel to this book, the longer Mr. Bridge, and I think Mrs. B is even better. The novel is constructed as a series of very short chapters about an upper-middle-class, Midwestern family between the 1920s and the early 1940s. The effect is that of a mosaic, although the progression is linear, beginning with Mrs. Bridge’s marriage, moving through the childhood and adolescence of her three children, and ending when everyone has flown the coop. What’s astonishing about the Bridge books is that the Bridges and their neighbors live such ordinary, even stultifying, lives, and yet reading about them is completely absorbing. Connell’s success here is partly due to his gift for compression, but it also has to do with his compassion for his characters, his sly humor, and his ability to plug into deep and universal currents of feeling that his characters can hardly name, much less freely acknowledge. The bewilderment and loneliness that Mrs. Bridge so often experiences in the midst of her very proper life is somehow also mine, living though I do decades later and within a completely different set of circumstances. I read this short book quickly and with delight but when I was done I felt a terrible grief.

The second novel was The Transit of Venus by Shirley Hazzard. It’s leisurely and dense where Mrs. Bridge is crystalline and swift. Transit is the story of two Australian sisters, orphans, who move to London when they are in their early twenties, for precisely the same reason that folks from Gary, Indiana move to New York City or L.A. — they hope to make something interesting of themselves. One becomes engaged to a well-born young man, and in his ancestral family home one summer the two sisters meet three other people with whom they will cross paths over the next twenty-odd years, the result each time being an alteration of at least one character’s fate. Transit contains elements of many different genres: romance novel, mystery novel, drawing-room comedy, philosophical essay. It’s nothing if not ambitious, and it probably goes unread by scores of people who would cherish it if they gave it a chance. The truth is that I was tempted to put it down after the first ten pages. The narrator is prone to pronouncements and aphorisms, and the language can at times be highly elaborate and abstract. But soon the richness of the character portraits and the powerful mood won me over, and Hazzard’s style came to seem perfectly and uniquely right. Transit is also a quietly tricky book: clues are dropped in the first pages that reveal their significance only hundreds of pages later. It’s easy to miss some of those clues. I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why a central character had committed suicide (this is not a spoiler; the incident is foretold on page 12) until a friend pointed out a few words, buried forty pages before the ending, which made this act, and the book’s last paragraph, completely and shockingly clear.
Visit Pamela Erens's website to read more about The Understory and her short stories, essays, and journalism.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Mark Harris

Mark Harris works as a writer and editor covering movies, television and books for Entertainment Weekly, where he now writes the back-page column "The Final Cut." He has written about pop culture for many other publications as well, including Slate and the New York Times. His new book is Pictures at a Revolution: Five Movies and the Birth of the New Hollywood.

Last week I asked him what he was reading. His reply:
How do you write about a relationship you never witnessed between two people you never met when those two people seem to have left almost no written trace of their history together? Judith Freeman sets that steep challenge for herself in The Long Embrace: Raymond Chandler and the Woman He Loved, in which she tries to explain -- to herself as much as to us -- the thirty-year marriage of the alcoholic, philandering, possibly bisexual Chandler to a woman eighteen years his senior. It's an act of biographical speculation in some ways, but it's speculation of a very thoughtful and responsible order, and Freeman goes about her task in a completely original way: The Chandlers, for reasons that remain as elusive as their relationship, never stopped moving, and Freeman retraces their path to and from the nearly three dozen houses and apartments in and around Los Angeles where they lived.

As a native New Yorker who writes about the movie business, I've always been fascinated by the impossible geography of L.A. -- its endless sprawl, its lack of a center, and the way in which it constantly keeps facelifting and remaking itself. And Freeman finds, unexpectedly, a new form in which to explore that strange terrain -- her biography gives way to her efforts as a kind of geographical archaeologist who wants to understand, and to feel viscerally, the Los Angeles that Chandler evoked so brilliantly. Sometimes she can and sometimes she can't, but the moments when she comes upon a strip mall or a housing project where a home used to be add up to an amazing cautionary tale about how, as she puts it, "when you constantly change a landscape, you erase the collective memory of a city." By the end of the book, Chandler's marriage was still something of a mystery to me, but his writing, and Los Angeles, suddenly made sense in a whole new way.

In the category of longer-term reading projects, I've been drawn lately to the Library of America's two-volume history Reporting Vietnam, a beautifully ordered chronological collage of journalistic approaches to Vietnam from the earliest days of U.S. involvement to the end of the war. It's really a vindication of on-the-ground journalism, the thing that gets dismissed so often as merely a rough draft of history, something that will be corrected later when one has the leisure to take the long view. That's often true, but the best war journalism -- the best journalism about ANY subject -- has a value that's almost always underestimated; the sharpness and immediacy of its perspective and its ability to capture a specific moment of thought and action has value that is, in some ways, as enduring as post facto history -- and it can be just as illuminating, from a historical perspective, when it turns out to have been completely wrong.
Read more about Mark Harris and his work at the Pictures at a Revolution website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 10, 2008

Roy Foster

Roy Foster is Carroll Professor of Irish History, an endowed Chair founded in 1991 and attached to Hertford College, University of Oxford. He is the author of many books on the political, social, cultural and literary history of Ireland, and the two-volume authorized biography of W.B.Yeats. His most recent work, Luck and the Irish: A Brief History of Change from 1970, concerns social and political change in Ireland in the late twentieth century.

Of Luck and the Irish, William Birdthistle wrote in the Wall Street Journal: "This deceptively brief volume is an encyclopedic survey of change throughout the national fabric of Ireland -- religious, political and cultural -- over the past three decades."

Last week I asked him what he was reading. His reply:
Scotland's Books by Robert Crawford [Penguin, literary history], because I'm giving the Clark lectures in Cambridge next year and want to talk about nationalism and romanticism in literature; The Truth Commissioner by David Park [Bloomsbury], because it's a powerful novel about Northern Ireland by a writer I deeply admire; God's Architect: Pugin and the Building of Romantic Britain by Rosemary Hill [Penguin] and Talleyrand: Betrayer and Saviour of France by Robin Harris [John Murray], because I'm a judge of a prize for literary biography & have to produce a shortlist in a week or so; and Selected Poems by Bernard O'Donoghue [Faber], because he is a poet of great distinction and subtle power who writes about the Ireland I know (or knew).
Read more about Luck and the Irish at the Oxford University Press website.

Learn more about Roy Foster's research and other publications at his Oxford faculty webpage.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 7, 2008

Maile Meloy

Maile Meloy is the author of the story collection Half in Love and the novel Liars and Saints, and the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship.

Last year, Meloy applied the "Page 99 Test" to her third book, A Family Daughter.

I recently asked her what she was reading. Her reply:
I’ve been reading the Aubrey and Maturin novels by Patrick O’Brian, the series that begins with Master and Commander. For those who don’t already know and love them, the books are set during the Napoleonic wars at the beginning of the nineteenth century, and follow the adventures of Jack Aubrey, a captain in the Royal Navy, and Stephen Maturin, an Irish-Catalonian ship’s surgeon and naturalist. Aubrey is brave, skillful, and lucky at sea, and easy prey for swindlers on land. Maturin is a brilliant linguist and spy, and an occasional addict, who can’t tell starboard from larboard and tends to fall into the water. Aubrey is wholehearted and bearish, Maturin sharp-tongued and secretive and reflective. But that’s simplifying the appeal of their twenty-book friendship. I have no particular interest in the sailing or fighting of square-rigged ships, but I’ve never been so attached to any fictional characters in my life.

The plots are beautifully constructed, and I try to pay attention to what O’Brian is doing, how he’s laid in the cause and effect, but I get so caught up that I forget. I spend time thinking about what would have happened to Jack Aubrey if he had never met Stephen Maturin (disaster!), or what Stephen’s life would have been if he hadn’t met Jack (somewhat dull). Sometimes I stop reading, to stave off bad things happening, or at least my knowing about them. Near the end of one book I sat crying, mostly with relief, about the injustice done — and the affection shown — to someone who didn’t actually live 200 years ago. I’m on the fifteenth of the twenty novels, at a rate of one every few days, and the only hitch in the steady pleasure is how soon I will run out.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Michael Novacek

Michael Novacek, Senior Vice-President and Provost of Science at the American Museum of Natural History, is the author of Time Traveler, Dinosaurs of the Flaming Cliffs, and the recently released Terra: Our 100-Million-Year-Old Ecosystem--and the Threats That Now Put It at Risk.

Late last month I asked him what he was reading. His reply:

As a scientist, and a science writer, I am a research news freak. I daily siphon publications on everything from the latest data on the big melt at the poles to mammalian anatomy, evolution and paleontology (the latter are research specialties of mine). When it comes to my readings outside of science, pleasure often requires a similar level of obsession. Currently I am completely captured, and enraptured, by Alex Ross’s The Rest is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century. Ross seems to have succeeded at what I thought was impossible, an interlacing of lives of the composers and their tumultuous societies with a vivid dissection of their music. Here, notes do leap off the page, descriptions so enticing that they have rekindled deep-seated musical passions (I come from a family of musicians including, at one time, myself), and have driven me to contribute mightily this week to a spike in sales of overlooked works by Schoenberg, Webern, and Berg (who, according to Ross, was dismayed whenever one of his works was actually well-received by the German public). Ross, by the way, has an excellent website that offers some free audiofile tidbits, but that will only inspire you to hear (and acquire) more. I am halfway through the book, and halfway through a mind-blowing, ear-shattering experience.

Another transporting book involves bicycles. I just finished reading Tim Krabbé’s novel The Rider, a spare, gut-wrenching, first-person description, meter-by-meter, of the hundred-and thirty-seven kilometer Tour de Mont Aigoul. This sinuous course through frigid mountain passes, terrifying hairpin downhills, and sun-scorched plateaus is reputedly the most grueling stage of the Tour de France. Krabbé, famous for his disturbing story of psychological horror in The Vanishing, shows he is also good for drama and suspense when comes to exhausting hill climbs, tire blowouts, cycle crashes, and the combination of relentless drive, arrogance, and race savvy it takes to win, or even finish. The pages, like the bikes, fly by. I was a good way through this 160-pager by the time my delayed flight at LaGuardia got to the head of the queue for takeoff.

What next? I plan to bury myself in Bruce Barcott’s new, highly-praised book The Last Flight of the Scarlet Macaw: One Woman’s Fight to Save the World’s Most Beautiful Bird. I share with this eloquent writer many of the same concerns and hopes for our environmental future. Also it’s time to re-board the Pequod in search of Moby Dick, that being of “… outrageous strength, with an inscrutable malice sinewing it.”
Read more about Terra at the publisher's website, and listen to Novacek discuss the book on NPR's Talk of the Nation.

Learn more about Michael Novacek's research and many publications.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Juliet Lapidos

Juliet Lapidos is a writer and editorial assistant at Slate.

Last month I asked her what she was reading. Her reply:
Every year I make a list of the 15 or so books I’m most ashamed to admit I haven’t read. It’s always short enough to allow time for spur-of-the-moment picks, and long enough so I get a sense of completion when I’m finished. The list also functions as a diary of sorts. When I look back at the word file entitled mustread_99_doc., I can get a good idea of how I spent my leisure hours during my junior year of high school.

At the top of this year’s list – Le Rouge et le Noir (The Red and the Black), Stendhal’s masterpiece about French society during the end days of the Restoration. His protagonist is Julien Sorel, an ambitious carpenter’s son who idolizes Napoleon, but who realizes that the path to power is no longer through the army (as during Napoleon’s time), but through the Church. He’s good at acting the part of a young priest in training (he even memorizes the gospels in Latin) but he has no innate sense of devotion or traditional moral compass.

Le Rouge et le Noir can be roughly broken up into three parts: Julien’s seduction of a provincial mayor’s wife – Mme. de Renal – his sojourn at a seminary, and his brief dalliance with Parisian high society. Throughout, Stendhal engages in some fairly obvious criticism of the hypocrisy that pervades French culture, which might’ve been bold at the time, but which now seems too heavy-handed. Still, there’s a lot to like: Stendhal’s great at describing firsts: Julien’s virgin voyage (Julien has no idea what he doing, but grandly envisions himself as a Napoleonic soldier subduing an enemy), his first dinner with aristocrats (awkward!).

Speaking of firsts, I recently went off-list to read First Love by Turgenev on my friend Nick McDonell’s recommendation. It made me wish I could read Russian, because I felt like I was reading something truly great, only through a haze.
Among the recent issues Lapidos has cleared up for Slate readers: Can a Man Become a Magnet?, How do archaeologists estimate the size of ancient populations?, Why Would Clemens Shoot Up With B-12?, and Why Is Florida God's Waiting Room?.

Read more Slate articles by Juliet Lapidos.

--Marshal Zeringue