LEVI McPHERSON, a graduate student of analytical chemistry at the University of North Central Florida, is approached by agents of the Homeland Security’s Counter-terrorism Unit. The agency is recruiting Lee to study and expose the loopholes of screening instruments in airports. Struggling financially, he accepted the offer, making him a paid, benevolent hacker of the nation’s gateway. Yet Levi is horrified when an Airbus from Los Angeles disintegrated in mid-air.

At 40, when everybody’s career trajectory is going up, Levi’s still a poor graduate student, struggling financially. His research projects however, are worth million dollars. Researching the highly classified and heavily guarded secrets of detecting traces of explosives, what Lee know was a goldmine. The agency's offer is his financial break . So Levi tackles the problem like a scientist, detailing the loopholes of the aviation security and turning what he knew into a big time money machine.

JIM and JONATHAN of the counter-terrorism unit, where nowhere to be found after Charlotte International Airport, a hub of Delta Airlines closed abruptly because of instrument malfunctions in their security lines. And in a post-Osama Bin Laden’s era, the biggest blow to the United Stated after the 9/11 disaster comes unexpectedly when a passenger plane blew up in the skies of Washington D.C., in the heart of the nation.

Levi knew it was only the start of more troubles, so he recruits his fellow graduate students to counter the future attacks. They have to think like criminals—and scientists too. With the help of FBI counter-terrorism experts, Homeland Security and Transportation Security Agency, the team races to close and plug the loopholes Lee identified.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Best Novels?

Cleaning out bookshelves, I found a copy of a book called "The 200 Best Novels in English Since 1950." Do you have an opinion of this?
—J.T.R., Gainesville, Fla.
Although the Modern Library's "200 Best Novels," edited by Colm Toibin and Carmen Callil, was published in 1999, and I'm always interested in "best of" book lists, I had never run across it until I received this question. It's no longer in print in the U.S., but I found it on a used-book website.
The purpose of any list of best books is to get people riled up, and the "200" did its job on me. Colm Toibin is an Irish writer whose fiction I have enjoyed and admired (a new collection of his short stories, "The Empty Family," will be published in the U.S. in January). I wasn't familiar with Ms. Callil; it turns out she was a founder of Virago Press, a British publisher of past and current books by and for women. She also set off a literary kerfuffle earlier this year when she resigned as one of the three judges of the International Man Booker prize because it was awarded to Philip Roth. "I heard the swish of emperor's clothes," she wrote later.
Everett Collection
"Sophie's Choice" by William Styron did not make the Modern Library's list of the "200 Best Novels."
It's a useful exercise for any reader to create his or her own best list if only because nobody else's list will be as incisive and brilliant as one's own. I did this several years ago (my 50 favorite novels of the past two decades), and it was surprisingly difficult—some books acquire a retroactive glow because they are associated with the time or place they were read. I revised the list a few years later, which was even more taxing because I had to knock off some earlier choices to make room for new ones. Sure, I could simply have increased the size of the list, but it's more intellectually challenging to stick with an arbitrary number.
In their introduction, Mr. Toibin and Ms. Callil acknowledge than any such list is "entirely personal." They say each of their choices had qualities of genius and excitement and gave the reader "a feeling that you would love to hand this book to someone else to read." Fair enough, although genius is often in the eye of the beholder. I was perturbed by their admission that neither cares for science fiction, fantasy or most historical novels. Most of all, I was troubled by their—or their publisher's—claim not that these were their favorite books but that they were the best. I love Carl Hiaasen's novels, but I don't believe his "Double Whammy," which appears on their list, is one of the best novels of the second half of the 20th century. It's nowhere near as good as "Sophie's Choice" by William Styron or "The New Confessions" by William Boyd, neither of which made the 200.
There was some overlap between my list and theirs, including some lesser-known novels like "Asylum" by Patrick McGrath and "The Winshaw Legacy" by Jonathan Coe (the British title is "What a Carve Up!"). We all liked Larry McMurtry's "Lonesome Dove"; Pat Barker's "Regeneration" trilogy; and Rohinton Mistry's "A Fine Balance."
Then, inevitably, I started to quibble: "American Psycho" by Bret Easton Ellis? Definitely worth reading but a leaflet compared with Barry Unsworth's majestic "Sacred Hunger." I read Richard Ford's "The Sportswriter" (on their list) and have never been tempted to read another of his novels. Yet they made no room for Richard Russo's "The Risk Pool" or Kazuo Ishiguro's "Remains of the Day." In my opinion they chose the wrong Anne Tyler book ("Breathing Lessons" rather than "St. Maybe") and the wrong T.C. Boyle ("Tortilla Curtain" instead of "World's End"). But this likely qualifies as the "petty snobbery" Clifford Fadiman referred to in his introduction to "Good Books," a 1982 compendium edited by Steven Gilbar. Mr. Gilbar judges a book worth recommending (he mentions 9,000 titles) if it is "rewarding and pleasurable."
A few other book lists to entertain and infuriate you: "The Best Novels of the Nineties" by Linda Parent Lesher; "The Reading List" by David Rubel; "The Novel 100" by Daniel S. Burt; and "The List of Books" by Frederic Raphael and Kenneth McLeish.
Anthony Burgess, who edited "Ninety-Nine Novels: The Best in English Since 1939," was later asked about the furious reaction his choices had provoked. "That was the intention," he said. He added, "I think one has to do this kind of thing occasionally to make people wake up and start considering what really makes a good book."
—Send your questions about books and reading to Cynthia Crossen at Write to Cynthia Crossen at

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