Best Books Of 2010

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Think about some phrases here: Going places; A sense of place; Being stuck in place. These are all themes of new books suggested for holiday giving by some independent booksellers around the country.

NPR's special correspondent Susan Stamberg, who's never stuck in place, puts their suggestions in place right now.

SUSAN STAMBERG: Readers and writers are usually word lovers. Phil Cousineau has put together definitions and stories about some favorite words, in his book "Wordcatcher." Daniel Goldin, at Boswell Book Company in Milwaukee, says there are loads of word collections. But he read this one cover-to-cover.

Mr. DANIEL GOLDIN (Owner, Boswell Book Company): I thought I was just going to dip into it. And then I thought I don't want to really miss any of these words.

STAMBERG: Like the Irish word craic, spelled C-R-A-I-C.

Mr. GOLDIN: (Reading) A good time, where the action is, the real thing, where's the craic? It's asked in pubs, streets, schools, after Mass, before leave-taking; meaning where's the fun, the good times, the best people, the nightlife.

STAMBERG: A good time can mean going places. Lucia Silva, of Portrait of a Bookstore in Studio City, California, says Alain De Botton's book "A Week at the Airport" tracks goings and comings.

The author was invited to be writer-in-residence at London's Heathrow Airport. Live there for a week, sit at a desk in the middle of the departure hall observing and, amazingly, writing.

This excerpt about families leaving for vacation.

Ms. LUCIA SILVA (Book Buyer, Portrait of a Bookstore): He had booked the trip at the expectation of being able to enjoy his children, his wife, the Mediterranean, some spanikopita and the attic(ph) skies. But it was evident that he would be forced to apprehend all of these through the distorting filter of his own being, with its debilitating levels of fear, anxiety and wayward desire. British Airways did, it was true, maintain a desk manned by some unusually personable employees and adorned with the message: We are here to help. But the staff shied away from existential issues, seeming to restrict their insights to matters relating to transit time and the location of the nearest toilets.

STAMBERG: Getting someplace, living someplace, losing someplace. Another Lucia Silva choice is about all of that, a gorgeous work she says full of longing for what once was, before Hurricane Katrina. The book is "Where We Know: New Orleans as Home," edited by David Rutledge.

Ms. SILVA: This is a collection of essays from people who call New Orleans home, and some who stayed to rebuild their lives. And it cuts passed that romantic veneer, but still recognizes these magical singular things about such an iconic city.

STAMBERG: A mosaic of impressions from writers, teachers, workers.

Ms. SILVA: It feels, to me, like a memoir about someone you wish you'd known.

STAMBERG: The narrator of Howard Norman's novel "What Is Left the Daughter," wishes he had known his daughter better. On her 21st birthday, he writes her a letter.

Rona Brinlee, at The BookMark in Neptune Beach, Florida, is a great Howard Norman fan.

Ms. RONA BRINLEE (Owner, The BookMark): He starts every one of his books with some confession of a wrongdoing. And so if that doesn't hook you, I don't know what will.

STAMBERG: In "What Is Left the Daughter," the confession is about something from the father's childhood. In Halifax, Nova Scotia during World War Two, a German student moves into town and thereby hangs the tale. Howard Norman's themes are love, revenge and xenophobia

Ms. BRINLEE: And those are the same issues that we face today. There is nothing wrong with this student. He hasn't done anything. And yet there's just this inordinate fear and concern that he is going to do something, just because he's German and it's World War II.

STAMBERG: Hooked? Rona Brinlee was. She also likes Elisabeth Tova Bailey's fascinatingly titled "The Sound of A Wild Snail Eating." A gem, Rona says.

Ms. BRINLEE: Its no bigger, almost, than a five by seven file card; a tiny little book that really proves that wonderful things do come in small packages.

STAMBERG: A bed-ridden woman is given a plant. On the plant, a snail - a snail, she thinks, and then becomes mesmerized by it.

Ms. BRINLEE: The snail is really going through life at the same pace that she is, because she can't get out of bed and she can't do anything.

STAMBERG: Ultimately, says Rona, the snail becomes a companion, a comfort, a lesson in life. So the snail lady is stuck in place. Isabella, the purple-haired heroine of Jennifer Fosberry's children's book, is trying out places and people she can be. The book is called "My Name Is Not Isabella."

Ms. BRINLEE: In the morning, her mother says, you know, good morning, Isabella. And she goes, I'm not Isabella. Well, who are you? And she's different people as the day goes on.

STAMBERG: She's astronaut Sally Ride; or at breakfast, sharpshooter Annie Oakley.

Ms. BRINLEE: When she gets on the bus, she's Rosa Parks. When she comes home to do her some work, she's very smart - she's Marie Curie to do her homework.

STAMBERG: All of us need role models. Rona thinks Isabella's are beauts.

Ms. BRINLEE: At the end, of course, she's Isabella again. And she's going to go to sleep and she's going to dream about who she can be tomorrow.

STAMBERG: "My Name Is Not Isabella," a treat for readers age four to eight.

Finally, more from Phil Cousineau's "Wordcatcher" just because it's fun. Bookseller Daniel Goldin wants us to wrap up with kibosh, another Irish word. Who knew?

I love that word.

Mr. GOLDIN: I do, too. I like to use it once a week.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GOLDIN: Which means I have to squelch something.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GOLDIN: (Reading) Kibosh: to put a lid on it, to put a stop to, to squelch. To take the mystery of this Gaelic word, we need to hop across the pond and revisit the Irish funeral practice of placing a kibosh, a black cap on the deceased; a solemn form of saying farewell. Across the Irish Sea, in England on the continent, a black cap was worn by judges passing a death sentence, thus to put the kibosh on someone is to declare them as good as dead.

STAMBERG: Excellent.

(Soundbite of laughter)

STAMBERG: Okay, did you have one more that you want to do?

Mr. GOLDIN: I'm very excited to mention borborignus. But...

STAMBERG: Oh, well. I'm excited to hear it.

Mr. GOLDIN: (Reading) Borborignus are stomach growls, the rumble in the jungle of your tummy. Our word descends from the Greek borborygmus from borborustine(ph)...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GOLDIN: ...to rumble - no kidding - the burbling sounds issuing forth from your intestinal passing of gas. This is a great word to pull out around the Thanksgiving table, when the snarls and growls coming from the bowels of your guests threaten to drown out the cheers and jeers coming from the football game on television.

STAMBERG: Bon appetite and thanks to all our independent booksellers, whetting your appetite for a happy holiday season.

I'm Susan Stamberg, NPR News.

INSKEEP: Those book suggestions and more are at NPR.org.

The burbling sound you hear right now is MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

I'm Renee Montagne off on vacation for the next couple of weeks. Happy Holidays, Steve.

INSKEEP: Ah, thank you very much. Have a great time. We'll see you soon.

I'm Steve Inskeep.

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