The shortlist for the Samuel Johnson Prize was announced today. The prize, run by the BBC, “aims to reward the best of non-fiction, from biography, travel and popular science to the arts and current affairs.” The winner will be announced on June 15th. Here are the shortlisted titles:A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill BrysonGulag by Anne ApplebaumJohn Clare: A Biography by Jonathan BateStasiland: True Stories from Behind the Berlin Wall by Anna FunderThe Zanzibar Chest: A Story of Life, Love, and Death in Foreign Lands by Aidan HartleyRubicon: The Last Years of the Roman Republic by Tom HollandAll in all, a pretty solid group of booksIn other news, the cd from the little record label that my friend Derek and I run is now available at Amazon. It’s by a band called The Recoys or you can buy it through the Realistic Records homepage.
All of a sudden I’ve worked my way pretty quickly through the pile of books I have lying around, so I was digging through my shelves looking for what to read next. I dug up an old copy of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov that I’d come across on a book finding expedition a while back. The Russians occupy a gaping hole among books that I have read. I have never read any of the 19th century classics, and I figure I ought to start sooner rather than later. However, staring at this brick-like copy of Karamazov, I became intimidated as I wondered if this was the best place to begin my education in Russian literature. Yet, I did not panic; instead I emailed my friend Brian, who I happen to know is a great connoisseur of Russian Lit. Here is what I wrote: I’ve never read any of the classic Russian writers, and I want to start, but I’m not sure which one to start with. Any ideas? I’ve got The Brothers Karamazov… so I’m thinking of starting with that. …and here is his response…the russians are my favorites — all of ’em, dostoevsky, tolstoy, chekhov, gogol, turgenev, pushkin, etc…my favorite russian writer is Dostoevsky (chekhov is second) and my favorite novel is definitely The Brothers Karamazov. it might be my favorite novel of all time, but i think you should start with Crime and Punishment a much more conventional and accessible book. not that i think you couldn’t handle The Brothers, but just think you might wanna ease your way in… check out Gogol’s short stories “The Overcoat” and “The Nose” [in The Collected Tales of Nikolai Gogol] and Chekhov’s story “Ward No. 6” [in Stories] is a masterpiece, as are many (most) of his stories.Thanks, Brian… If anyone else has insights on the Russians, let us know by using the comment button below.Two Hot New BooksA couple of very different brand new books have been getting lots of attention from customers lately: The Zanzibar Chest by Aidan Hartley is part mystery, part memoir that is a story of life in post-colonial Africa, which must necessarily touch upon the history of colonialism as well as all too recent war and genocide. Here is an excerpt. Completely unrelated but also very interesting is Where’d You Get Those? New York City’s Sneaker Culture: 1960-1987 a pictorial history of playground basketball and the footwear that accompanied it by Bobbito Garcia, writer for Vibe, world-class DJ, “basketball performer,” and world-renowned break-dancer. For pics of the hot kicks… go here.