MADELEINE BRAND, host:
This is DAY TO DAY from NPR News. I'm Madeleine Brand.
ALEX COHEN, host:
And I'm Alex Cohen.
Okay, so we're through that first crazy crush of holiday shopping, but maybe you still haven't found presents for everyone on your list. Well, we're here help.
Every year, NPR's Karen Grigsby Bates scours the bookshelves to find the best in literary gifts. Our colleague, Alex Chadwick, sat down with Karen to talk about her picks for this year.
ALEX CHADWICK: Karen, welcome back.
KAREN GRIGSBY BATES: Well, Alex, thanks. It's nice to be back. Let's take a look at a couple of novels and a short story collection. First book is a novel called "Loving Frank," which is a fictionalized biography of Mamah Borthwick Cheney, who was a married client and friend to the architect Frank Lloyd Wright.
They met in Oak Park, Illinois at the turn of the 20th century, sparks flew, she ran off with him to Europe in 1909, and it caused a huge scandal. They ended up being sort of the Brad and Angelina of the pre-World War I set.
CHADWICK: I never heard of her; certainly everyone knows about him, but this is a true love story now fictionalized.
BATES: True love story told from Mamah Cheney's point of view. She was a early feminist, highly intellectual, and he kind of let her be her. Both of them being themselves had its own consequences later on, which I won't tell because it will spoil the book, but it's a really, really good read.
CHADWICK: That's "Loving Frank." Okay, what the second?
BATES: The second one, I have to say I was gripped by a slim book called "The Ghost" by Robert Harris. It's a book about a ghostwriter who gets called in to do the supposed autobiography of the newly stepped down prime minister of England, who sounds a lot like Tony Blair. It's one of those books that you sit down on Friday and then you look up and it's 3:00 o'clock in the morning on Saturday and you go, huh, how did that happen?
CHADWICK: All right. Good.
BATES: So what if you discovered one day, Alex, that one of your parents was half black. Would that change your life at all?
CHADWICK: I don't know if it would change it. I certainly would be very surprised.
BATES: Well, that's the focus of this next book. It's called "One Drop: My Father's Hidden Life - The Story of Race and Family Secrets" by Bliss Broyard.
CHADWICK: Bliss Broyard, and she is the daughter of the long-time New York Time's book critic Anatole Broyard. I know his name, certainly.
BATES: Yeah, well now here you can the book cover, you can see his face, and he looks pretty pale.
BATES: He was. He was from New Orleans of Creole ancestry, which made him black and white and Indian ancestrally, but in the segregated U.S., it made him black, although very pale black.
CHADWICK: And Bliss is writing about finding out, so that means he passed as white for all his life.
BATES: Well, that means he didn't really clue anybody in intentionally. He let them think what they wanted and most of the looking at him would go, oh, there goes a white guy. Now, she discovered her dad was black as he was dying when her mother, who is white, said to him, you know, I think you ought to tell them.
And she was afraid he was going to go without them knowing, and so literally in his last hours she took them outside when they all went out from the hospital for a breath of fresh air and she said I have something to tell you. Your dad is part black. And there was this tremendous relief from her and her brother because she thought, oh my God, all this time we've been living with this family secret, we didn't know what it was, we though it was something terrible; that's all?
So she went back and for seven years she researched her family history and she did a wonderful job.
CHADWICK: All right, that's Bliss Broyard, the author of this new book you like, "One Drop." And...
BATES: I have a book about the size of a coffee table book. I don't know if you can lift that over there.
BATES: But this huge two-volume set.
CHADWICK: Here we go. Okay.
BATES: Good thing you have a good medical plan, Alex.
CHADWICK: We'll drop this on the floor.
(Soundbite of banging)
BATES: This is a really great compendium of all the cartoons that an artist named Don Martin inked for Mad magazine.
CHADWICK: Oh, I know his work - very distinctive and well loved.
BATES: Crazy Don Martin. His characters are these tall, loopy kind of guys with this pancakey flip-flop feet, and he does riffs on everything from crazy consumerism to hippies to politicians and military generals in the way that a 10-year-old could understand.
CHADWICK: This is a two-volume set of books in one of these mega opus sort of - but then it's Don Martin's cartoons inside there. It's kind of a joke itself.
BATES: It's pretty funny.
CHADWICK: All right, we'll put that in the stacking as well.
Karen Grigsby Bates, thank you again.
BATES: Thank you, Alex, and happy holidays.
CHADWICK: And we know that you all listening either in home or in your cars - you didn't quite have the time to jot all that down; the entire Karen Grigsby Bates book list at our Web site, npr.org.