I've never heard of the Flashman series of novels by George MacDonald Fraser, but the description that has accompanied his obituary today has my curiosity sparked: He wrote the first novel of the Flashman Papers in 1969 after he quit as assistant editor of the Glasgow Herald. The book imagines what happened after Flashman -- the bully in Thomas Hughes's Tom Brown's Schooldays -- was expelled from Rugby for drunkenness. Eleven more novels were to follow in the series, during which Flashman -- the most lily-livered ... read more

Last Tuesday, the Yahoo Groups mailing list devoted to the late fantasy novelist L. Sprague de Camp failed to note the 100th anniversary of his birth. This unconscionable slight has inspired Leo Grin, editor of the Robert E. Howard literary journal The Cimmerian, to take up his metaphorical two-handed battle axe and go medieval on their asses: ... not since I quit the board of The Dark Man in December of 2003 have I been so disgusted at the hapless, witless performance of a group of colleagues. I'm so thoroughly ... read more

Mohsin Hamid's The Reluctant Fundamentalist, a novel shortlisted for this year's Man Booker Prize, has a killer hook. Changez, a Pakistani graduated top of his class from Princeton working at a financial firm in Manhattan, slowly becomes radicalized by America's response to the 9/11 attacks. Sitting down at a restaurant in Lahore, Pakistan, with a mysterious man who appears to be an American military operative, Changez tells the story of how he came to renounce the U.S. The novel, briskly told in 184 pages, ... read more

In honor of tonight's Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows midnight release parties at Barnes & Noble stores across the U.S., I'm reissuing some advice I made on my blog in 2003. There will be hundreds of people lined up to get the book at 12:00 a.m., so it may take until 1:30 a.m. or longer to get yours, even if you preordered a copy. If you didn't preorder, leave the bookstore shortly before midnight and go to the nearest 24-hour Wal-Mart. (By law, no American is ever more than 30 miles from the nearest ... read more

It took me two-and-a-half years, but I finally figured out that the Fox medical drama House has patterned the title character, an arrogant doctor who solves sadistic medical mysteries, after Sherlock Holmes. Beyond the similarity of the names Holmes and House, both feature characters who are arrogant and addicted to drugs (Holmes abuses cocaine and morphine; House takes Vicodin for a leg ailment). They're both incredibly difficult to get along with and have only close friend and confidante -- Holmes has Dr. ... read more

I've never heard of Oliver Burkeman, but after reading his year-end book review for The Guardian, I'm stalking him on Google. In our conflict-ravaged times, no such list could start with anything other than Bob Woodward's State of War of Denial of Plan of Attack, the third part of his insider analysis of how George Bush invaded Iraq. The first two books, based on weeks of one-to-one interviews with Bush and Donald Rumsfeld, exclusively revealed the inspired and decisive leadership of the president and his defence ... read more

The Night Watch, a novel by Sarah Waters nominated for Britain's prestigious Man Booker Prize, has been written with an enthralling narrative gimmick. Divided into three sections, it tells the story of six characters in wartime London beginning in 1947, stepping back to 1944 and finishing in 1941. You learn where they ended up by page 150 and spend the next 300 pages finding out how they got there. This turns the events of the story on their head in interesting ways. When one of the characters remarks during the ... read more