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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

In this season of tight wallets and open hearts, it might be wise to choose holiday gifts that will stay around for a while. Books, for instance. NPR special correspondent Susan Stamberg has gathered seasonal picks from some trusty independent booksellers around the country.

SUSAN STAMBERG: Family strife, a murder, and evolution. Leave it to Rona Brinlee at the BookMark in Atlantic Beach, Florida to mix up a spicy stew. Let's start with family strife - Jonathan Topper's novel, �This Is Where I Leave You.�

Ms. RONA BRINLEE (Book Seller): There's nothing like a good crisis to bring a family together and tear them apart and then hopefully bring them back together again.

STAMBERG: There's been a death in the Foxman family, the father. Mrs. Foxman insists that her children come home and stay home for a week of mourning.

Ms. BRINLEE: This is a Jewish family. So they're sitting Shiva, but it could be any dysfunctional family. You've got one son who just found his wife having an affair. Another couple is trying to have a baby. Another one who shows up with some strange girlfriend.

STAMBERG: Rona Brinlee says in this family's time together the nice ones act nicer, the crazies get even crazier, and in Jonathan Topper's hands, it's funny, keen, and on occasion lewd. The making of family is one theme of �Little Bee� by Chris Cleave. It's Daniel Goldin's favorite book this year. Golden runs Boswell Books in Milwaukee and admires this story of a young Nigerian girl who gets stuck in a British immigration detention center. �Little Bee� begins this way.

Unidentified Man #1: How I would love to be a British pound. A pound is free to travel to safety, and we are free to watch it go. This is the human triumph. This is called globalization. A girl like me gets stopped at immigration but a pound can leap the turnstiles and dodge the tackles of those big men with their uniform caps and jump straight into a waiting airport taxi. Where to, sir? Western civilization, my good man, and make it snappy.

STAMBERG: Daniel Goldin says �Little Bee� is funny and smart�

Mr. DANIEL GOLDIN (Book Seller): But she is not book smart, and she has a wonderful humor about her, despite the fact that she's been through a really terrible thing in her past.

STAMBERG: The book is about rebuilding family under duress. One of Daniel Goldin's Milwaukee customers described �Little Bee� this way.

Unidentified Male #2: The story is about sacrificing, how much you would give up to do the right thing.

STAMBERG: Back in Atlantic Beach, Florida, Rona Brinlee's next book pick is a murder mystery in which no one is much concerned with doing the right thing. Rona says Harry Dolan's first novel, �Bad Things Happen,� is less about whodunit than who is really who.

Ms. BRINLEE: People have so many secrets. They're not who they say they are. They have changed their names. You don't show who the dead body is.

STAMBERG: �Bad Things Happen� starts with a bang.

Ms. BRINLEE: The shovel has to meet certain requirements. A pointed blade, a short handle to make it maneuverable in a confined space. He finds what he needs in the gardening section of a vast department store. He throws the shovel in his cart and moves unhurriedly through the wide aisles gathering a few more items, D-cell batteries, a bag of potting soil, a can of weed killer. Leather work gloves, two pairs. In the grocery section he picks up four deli sandwiches wrapped in plastic and a case of bottled water.

STAMBERG: Ooh, so he's either having a garden party because of all the sandwiches�

(Soundbite of laughter)

STAMBERG: Or he is burying a body and covering it up with plants and baloney or�

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BRINLEE: Well, I think that you probably have a good guess.

STAMBERG: Rona Brinlee's final holiday gift pick is a poetry collection put together by Children's Poet Laureate Mary Ann Hoberman and Linda Winston. The book is called �The Tree That Time Built.� Rona says this anthology of more than a 100 poems is built around the theme of evolution.

Ms. BRINLEE: How many species are there? Why are there so many different kinds? How long have they been here? All the basic questions that Darwin would raise.

STAMBERG: There's a vast range of poets - Walt Witnen, Robert Frost, Langston Hughes, and Ogden Nash. His poem about termites.

Ms. BRINLEE: Some primal termite knocked on wood and tasted it and found it good, and that is why your Cousin May fell through the parlor floor today.

STAMBERG: �The Tree That Time Built� comes with a CD on which sound effects have been added so you can hear the termites tapping away as that poem is read. Looking is the recommendation of Lucia Silva, who buys books for Portrait of a Bookstore in Studio City, California. She wants us to look at a book of iconic photographs edited by Steve Crist. It's called �The Contact Sheet.�

Ms. LUCIA SILVA (Book Seller): �The Contact Sheet� was made when you laid all of the negatives from a roll onto a sheet of photo paper and made a print. So you have all these rows of successive shots, so you can see the progression of, you know, the 24, 36, or 12 shots on a roll.

STAMBERG: The book offers contact sheets from various photo shoots. Robert Doisneau's lovers kissing in Paris. Dorothy Lange's Depression-era �Migrant Mother.� In each case Lucia says you see the outtakes as well as the final choice.

Ms. SILVA: You see what makes a photograph the one. You feel these ones that aren't the one�

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. SILVA: �and you see the one that stands out.

STAMBERG: The book includes quotes from each photographer, the history of the picture, and how final choices were made. Final choices and arriving at them figure in another Lucia Silva gift book pick, �The Paris Review Interviews,� a boxed set of some 50 years worth of conversations with some of our greatest writers about how they work, what and why they write.

Ms. SILVA: It's like a writing course in a box. It's this window into the writer's mind about all things personal and political as well as about other artists and techniques.

STAMBERG: �The Paris Review Interviews� are full of insights. For instance Joan Didion's writing process.

Ms. SILVA: Every day she re-types what she has so far in her manuscript. So if she has 50 pages, she re-types those 50 pages and keeps going to get under the rhythm, and I just thought that was a fantastic technique.

STAMBERG: It is. It's fantastic and it's sure puts off writing for a little bit.

Ms. SILVA: Right, or at least you have somewhere to start.

(Soundbite of laughter)

STAMBERG: And maybe this collection of suggestions from our independent booksellers gives you a place to start for your book-giving list this holiday season. Thanks to Rona Brinlee at the BookMark in Atlantic Beach, Florida; Daniel Goldin at Boswell Books in Milwaukee; and Lucia Silva of Portraits of a Bookstore in Studio City, California.

In Washington, I'm Susan Stamberg, NPR News.

MONTAGNE: A list of these and more choices from the booksellers is at our Web site, npr.org.

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

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