London Cabbie's Latest Book Recommendations

Host Scott Simon turns to Will Grozier, London's most well-read cabbie, for a few book recommendations.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

Our friend Will Grozier is a London cabbie by day and an avid reader - well, Will, do you read at the stoplights?

Mr. WILL GROZIER (Cab Driver): I try to, and I get in trouble for it sometimes, Scott.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GROZIER: Beep-beep.

SIMON: All right. We talk to Will Grozier from time to time, for his book recommendations. He joins us from London. Welcome back, Will.

Mr. GROZIER: Well, thank you, Scott, good morning to you, and it's been a long time. How have you been?

SIMON: Fine, thanks. How have you been?

Mr. GROZIER: Well, the news from London is good, positive economic indicators. You all want to know how the economy is before we start with books, so I'm going to tell you, and that is that after a dismal beginning to the year and then a dip for summer holidays, we have come out of that with quite a rush. So it's good news.

SIMON: Good.

Mr. GROZIER: The indicators are good.

SIMON: So whatcha readin'?

Mr. GROZIER: Well, I'm wading - I'm not even wading. I'm progressing with due diligence through the Booker-nominated Sarah Waters' "The Little Stranger."

SIMON: Booker Prizes are coming up, the Man Booker Prize.

Mr. GROZIER: The Booker Prize are coming up on the 6th of October, and I certainly wasn't going to rise to the challenge of trying to read all six. So I stuck a pin in the tail of the donkey and came up with Sarah Waters.

No, that's not strictly true. I took a view that there are three heavyweights this year and three lightweights, and being a champion of the underdog, I thought, well, let's have a look at who's nominated, and Coetzee is nominated for a third time and hasn't bothered to turn up twice for the awards ceremony.

SIMON: This is the great South African writer.

Mr. GROZIER: The great South African, yes.

SIMON: Nobel laureate, too, I believe, right?

Mr. GROZIER: Yeah, I believe so, yeah, but there was a piece in the press here rather dismissively complaining about the fact that he can't be bothered to acknowledge. So I think if I was a committee member, I'd probably not be too enamored with that behavior.

So I thought, well, if I'm not going to read a twice-winner, I'll try and read a twice-nominated, and Sarah Waters has been twice nominated. So I thought, well, I'll run with that.

And this is a very well-crafted story of a dysfunctional family in the post-war austere era in Great Britain that gulls you into believing that you're reading a historical novel until about the hundredth page, when you suddenly realize that you've become sucked into a suspense thriller, and I thought, oh no, not things that go bump in the night.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GROZIER: But such is the clever crafting of the way the book is written that you have to go with it. It's the story of a little girl who comes back to haunt a family and progressively wreaks destruction on the family, and the thing that anchors it is the very staid and sensible doctor who's a very logical man, fights tooth and nail against all this irrationality.

Very well-written, thoroughly deserves its place in the listings, and I don't know. It may be one of those dark horses that just pulls it off against the odds.

SIMON: One of the reasons we love talking to you, Will, aside from your - no, in addition to your enthusiasm for what you read, is I think you read the way people who really love reading do: something old, something new, something borrowed, something stolen from the back of the cab.

Mr. GROZIER: Yeah, absolutely. I'm a piece of flotsam to be blown in any direction that the book cares to throw me. I mean, in another vein, particularly on the - I'm turning away from the mike, but I'll come to back to you - in another way, reading the short list for the Booker and seeing "Wolf Hall" by Harry Mantel, I then happened a couple of days later on a book of short stories by a writer that you probably know, Tobias Wolff.

SIMON: Of course.

Mr. GROZIER: Yeah, and he has a compendium of his short stories called "Our Story Begins." One of the things I've enjoyed about some of the stories I've read of his is the economy of the short story writer, and let me give you an example.

One of the stories is a group of hunters that go out into the freezing cold wastelands of some rural state to go shooting, and there ensues some kind of discourse or argument between them, and one of them shoots the farmer's dog.

The other guy gets all riled by his friend's behavior and shoots his friend. So now they heave this poor unfortunate into the back of the truck, and then the last line - this is the beautiful economy, this is the beautiful economy of the short story writer, and if I can just find it for you. You'll have to fill here for a little bit while I find it. No, you won't - no…

SIMON: Thank you, Will.

Mr. GROZIER: Tom smiled out of the back window. Kenny lay with his arms folded over his stomach, moving his lips at the stars. Right overhead was the Big Dipper, and behind, hanging between Kenny's feet in the direction of the hospital, was the North Star, Pole Star, help to sailors. As the truck twisted through the gentle hills and the star went back and forth between Kenny's boots, staying always in his sight, I'm going to hospital, Kenny said, but he was wrong. They'd taken a different turn a long way back.

And then he's going to leave it hanging in the air, knowing full well the guy is never going to get to the hospital, the guy's going to expire in the back of the truck, and that's the art of the short story writer.

SIMON: The short story invites you to fill in the blanks.

Mr. GROZIER: Absolutely, yeah. He's giving you clues along the way. You know from the tenor of the two protagonists in the truck that they couldn't give a rip about the guy in the back, and you know what his fate's going to be. So I think that's a little volume to be savored. And I'm following the same theme here by another serendipitous purchase, "Science Friction" by Michael Shermer. Shermer is the editor and driving force behind the Skeptic magazine

SIMON: I'm a believer myself.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GROZIER: Believer - strong believer in skepticism, yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GROZIER: And again, it doesn't take much to sell a piece or a book to me, but when I just opened the flyer and read that his great mentor in life was the essayist Stephen J. Gould, I thought, okay, that's a steal.

SIMON: Yeah, great essayist and baseball fan, if you ever read Stephen J. Gould on baseball.

Mr. GROZIER: Well, yes, and as you will remember, Scott, he is credited with explaining to the Americans how cricket works, or is it the other way around? I can never remember.

SIMON: A little of both, I think.

Mr. GROZIER: A little of both.

SIMON: Well, always a pleasure to talk to you, my friend.

Mr. GROZIER: And you, sir. And you, sir.

SIMON: Will Grozier, finest cabbie and reader in London with his book recommendations, the Booker-nominated Sarah Waters novel, "The Little Stranger"; Tobias Wolff's short-story compendium, "Our Story Begins"; and "Science Friction" by Michael Shermer.

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