SCOTT SIMON, host:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.
For the beach, sunscreen. For the lake, bug spray. But what to read? That's my question exactly as I prepare to head out for a couple of weeks. You know, a lot of people consult NPR.org or their local bookseller. I have a friend to call. Got a red phone right here in the studio for such emergencies - our friend, London cabby Will Grozier.
Mr. WILL GROZIER (Cab Driver, London): Hello, Scott.
SIMON: Hi there, Will. We should explain, because we haven't had you on for a few months.
Mr. GROZIER: This is true.
SIMON: You are the best-read man that I have ever encountered in my life. And, of course, like a lot of people, Will, you read a little bit of what's current, a little bit of what's on the remainder table, and stuff that people leave in the back of your cab.
Mr. GROZIER: Let's start with "Solar" by Ian McEwan.
SIMON: Did you like it? I love Ian McEwan. I haven't read this one, though.
Mr. GROZIER: It's an absolute hoot. It's completely in a different direction to anything that I think he's ever done before. Certainly anything I've ever read by McEwan tends to be very dark and malevolent. But this is just a romp. It's huge fun. It's black humor at its best.
And it's the story of a disenfranchised professor who is on his fifth marriage and rather jaded with the world and suddenly stumbles upon a super technology to convert solar power to electric energy. But the way that he comes upon this is germane to the plot, so I won't spoil it for your readers. But suffice it to say that this is McEwan as you've never read him before.
So that comes as a recommendation.
SIMON: Okay. Good. Anything else?
Mr. GROZIER: Well, in the same vein as a rattling good read for the beach, we have to mention our old friend David Black and "The Extinction Event."
SIMON: This is a man who was a well regarded novelist in his youth, who went on to be one of the principal writers of a program here in the United States called "Law and Order."
Mr. GROZIER: Exactly.
SIMON: And now he's back to writing novels, right?
Mr. GROZIER: Well, yes, except that I have to put my hands up and plead guilty that I haven't read any of his previous novels. I have read a little bit of David's work, but certainly not a rattling good - as Monty Python would say, a rattling good yarn of this degree.
As you've mentioned, in one of his incarnations he has been a screenwriter. And it's very evident in the very tight, fast-paced plot. And again, I don't want to give too much away to your readers. But it's dealing with a cover up of a potentially Armageddon-type event and all the cover-ups by the government and the murders. And there's plenty of sex and drugs and literary rock 'n' roll.
(Soundbite of laughter)
SIMON: Good. Or, I mean, that's shocking.
Mr. GROZIER: Well, yes, good, shocking. Shocking is good.
SIMON: Certainly, yeah, for this genre. All right. And that's called "The Extinction Event"?
Mr. GROZIER: "The Extinction Event," yes.
SIMON: Okay. And anything else?
Mr. GROZIER: Well, we're working through a list here, and we're going to get a little bit more serious now.
Mr. GROZIER: Sebastian Faulks, "A Week in December." This is the...
SIMON: Sebastian Faulks is the guy that's also been writing the new James Bonds, right?
Mr. GROZIER: He did. He did pen the new James Bond. I don't know how well that went.
Mr. GROZIER: You can always tell if a book's done really well, the time lag between the publication and then hitting the charity shops.
(Soundbite of laughter)
SIMON: And that one showed up pretty quickly?
Mr. GROZIER: And that one was pretty quick. Yeah. So...
SIMON: What's this new one that you mentioned?
Mr. GROZIER: Well, this is following seven people - the lives of seven diverse people through a period of a week in London. And he pulls together such diverse characters as a hedge fund manager, a London Underground train driver, a down-on-his-luck lawyer. Who else is there? Oh, and he has some potential bombers that have been brainwashed too by an Islamic fundamentalist.
So he brings together such a piecemeal party of people that all ultimately interact with each other at some point or other in the plot. And he's a storyteller par excellence is Sebastian. And it really works very, very well. A little bit deeper, a little bit darker than the first two. But, you know, if some of your readers want something a little bit more meaty.
SIMON: I've liked Sebastian Faulks' novels a lot. I think he's a wonderful writer of dialogue.
Mr. GROZIER: Yeah, and it shows.
SIMON: Anything else to bring our way?
Mr. GROZIER: Well, we're going to swing the pendulum completely out the other way now and go for a little bit of sensitivity. And this is maybe one for the ladies. I'm not too sure.
SIMON: Ooh, be careful, Will. Be careful. Yeah?
Mr. GROZIER: Colm Toibin...
SIMON: Men can be sensitive and...
Mr. GROZIER: Well, then this would...
SIMON: ...sex, drugs and violence. Yeah.
Mr. GROZIER: ...I will challenge the guys to read this. Colm Toibin's story of Brooklyn, which is...
SIMON: Oh, that's supposed to be wonderful.
Mr. GROZIER: It is wonderful. And like many of the Irish writers that I've read in recent years, he seems to have a very, very deft touch when it comes to portraying women. And this is no exception.
It's the story of a young girl who, for economic reasons, makes a migration to New York. And then almost imperceptibly undergoes a fundamental change of approach because of her new surroundings, her new environment, her new interaction. She blossoms into a new person and then becomes conflicted when she's brought back to the family home in Ireland by the death of her sister.
And ultimately the story revolves around the decision that she has to make at the end of that rather tormented period.
SIMON: Sounds like a wonderful story...
Mr. GROZIER: Yeah.
SIMON: ...that would certainly resonate with the experience of so many families over here.
Mr. GROZIER: Yeah, for sure. And we're progressing on a scale towards the darkest the darkest doom and gloom, which is the potentially the most wonderful book as well.
Mr. GROZIER: This is "Burying the Bones," and it's the biography of Pearl Buck, written by Hilary Spurling.
SIMON: Yeah. I've been reading reviews of this. Pearl Buck, of course, wrote "The Good Earth."
Mr. GROZIER: "The Good Earth." And...
SIMON: Which won the Nobel Prize for literature. It's probably the one book by her that anyone can name. But she was arguably one of the most important figures - well, unarguably one of the most important figures in American literature for a few years.
Mr. GROZIER: In the book, Spurling makes the point that Buck is a writer that's admired in the States but not read, and read in China but not admired.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. GROZIER: Buck - the one thing that's a redeeming - not a redeeming, but I kind of got to a point in the narrative where I thought I'm okay now because I read that what she did to escape this very, very difficult upbringing was to run up a tree and read Dickens.
SIMON: That's wonderful. Nothing will transport you like Dickens.
Mr. GROZIER: Well, and I thought, okay, that's fine. Now I know her literary achievements were rooted in Dickens. That's fine. You know, we can mark that one down for the Brits. That's fine.
(Soundbite of laughter)
SIMON: Will, thanks so much. Have a much better two weeks because of you. Thanks so much.
Mr. GROZIER: Thank you, Scott. Enjoy the reading.