Independent Booksellers Make Their Holiday Picks Wondering which books to buy for gifts this year, or to treat yourself? Susan Stamberg speaks to three independent booksellers about their top book picks for this holiday season.
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Independent Booksellers Make Their Holiday Picks

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Independent Booksellers Make Their Holiday Picks

Independent Booksellers Make Their Holiday Picks

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If you've made your holiday gift list, checked it twice and still need some ideas on books, you've come to the right place. Independent booksellers from across the country give NPR special correspondent Susan Stamberg their top picks.


All kinds of trimmings on our booksellers trees this year, mostly books with children as a theme. At the Book Mark in Atlantic Beach, Florida, Rona Brinlee picks a collection of essays about things we first read when we were very young. In "Rereadings: Seventeen Writers Revisit Books They Love." Authors Pico Iyer, Patricia Hampl and others describe books they first read in their 20s and then read again when they got older.

Ms. RONA BRINLEE: For Vivian Gornick, it was this impassioned love affair with Colette and how it just defined womanhood in her 20s, and now in middle age, not that she's any less interested in passionate and erotic love, but society has changed and culture has changed and she's not really convinced that 20-year-olds need Colette anymore.

STAMBERG: Oh, that would be a terrible loss, wouldn't it?

Ms. BRINLEE: It is a terrible loss. But they can still read it. It's just not going to be that same sense of, `Oh, she told me everything I needed to know.'

STAMBERG: Colette is one of many writers mentioned in "Rereadings: Seventeen Writers Revisit Books They Love." Rona Brinlee also likes an illustrated book called "Poetry Speaks to Children."

Ms. BRINLEE: This is my favorite book for the holidays, I was going to say for children but really for adults, 'cause I love it, too.

STAMBERG: Ninety-five poems plus a CD on which poets and others read various works.

Ms. BRINLEE: So you can hear Roald Dahl reading his own poetry or you can hear Basil Rathbone reading Edgar Allan Poe.

Mr. BASIL RATHBONE: (Reading) `Once upon a midnight dreary while I pondered weak and weary over many acquaintant curious volume of forgotten law, while I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping as if someone gently rapping were rapping at my chamber door.'

Ms. BRINLEE: You know, I'm one of those people who their teacher ruined poetry for me as a child 'cause she scared me away. So this is what poetry should be. It should be fun and exciting and it's also for people who love to hear poetry and they want to share that with some child in their life.

STAMBERG: The book plus CD is called "Poetry Speaks to Children."

A child named Ursula, part Chinese, part Finnish, is on Chuck Robinson's list at Village Books in Bellingham, Washington. "Ursula, Under" is a novel by Ingrid Hill. On a family outing in the upper peninsula of Michigan, two-year-old Ursula Wong falls down an old mine shaft. While her father goes to get help, her mother realizes this accident will be all over the TV news and imagines how the news will be received.

Mr. CHUCK ROBINSON: (Reading) `A woman back in Sault Ste. Marie will be lounging along in the newly remodeled high-ceiling living room of the home she inherited from her parents passed down from her grandfather, the judge. Fried and sour after two gins, she will grumble at the TV screen, "Why are they wasting all that money and energy on a half-breed trailer trash kid?"'

STAMBERG: Chuck Robinson says "Ursula, Under" is a gorgeously written epic about ancestry and how we got where we are.

"The Faces of Children" are part of another book Chuck Robinson chooses in "Hungry Planet: What the World Eats." Thirty families in 24 countries pose with their week's worth of groceries. The middle-class British and American families are surrounded by meat, vegetables, prepackaged stuff. The food for 13 members of an African family fits on a single blanket.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. BILLIE HOLIDAY: (Singing) Them's that got shall get. Them's that not shall lose. So the Bible says, and it still is new. My mommy have, papa may have, but God bless the child that's got his own, that's got his own.

STAMBERG: Singer Billie Holiday figures in one of Frank O'Hara's poems from "In Memory of My Feelings," a collection of poems plus sketches by artists O'Hara knew. Lucia Silva, book buyer for Portrait of a Bookstore in Studio City, California, says Frank O'Hara was a curator at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and wrote poems throughout his brief life. One written after the death of Billie Holiday is called "The Day Lady Died."

Ms. LUCIA SILVA: At the beginning of the poem is him sort of streaming through his day, getting a shoeshine, going to dinner, going out with people, going to a show and culminates in the end when he picks up the newspaper.

STAMBERG: Frank O'Hara's poem "The Day Lady Died" ends this way.

Ms. SILVA: (Reading) `And then I go back where I came from to 6th Avenue and the tobocconist and the Ziegfield Theatre and casually ask for a carton of Gauloises and a carton of Picayunes and a New York Post with her face on it, and I am sweating a lot by now and thinking of leaning on the john door in the 5 Spot while she whispered a song along the keyboard to Mal Waldron and everyone and I stopped breathing.'

STAMBERG: Lucia Silva's last choice is a real holiday book, a collection of three stories by Truman Capote called "A Christmas Memory." For Lucia, the title story is Capote at his short story writing best.

Ms. SILVA: A brief 25-page sort of embroidered memory.

STAMBERG: About his best friend, the eccentric beloved old maid cousin Sook Faulk who raised Truman Capote. Here's an excerpt.

Ms. SILVA: (Reading) `A woman with short and white hair is standing at the kitchen window. She is wearing tennis shoes and a sheepless gray sweater over a summery calico dress. She's small and brightly like a bantam hen, but due to a long youthful illness, her shoulders are pitiful hunched. Her face is remarkable, not unlike Lincoln's, craggy like that and tinted by sun and wind, but it is delicate, too, finely boned and her eyes are sherry-colored and timid.' "Oh, my," she exclaims, her breath smoking the window panes. "It's fruitcake weather."'

STAMBERG: From Truman Capote's story "A Christmas Memory," a holiday choice by Lucia Silva of Portrait of a Bookstore in Studio City, California.

Ms. SILVA: It's a great tradition to read every Christmas. It's less Christmasy than other Christmas tales, so you can read it any time of year no matter who you are or what you celebrate.

STAMBERG: Thanks to all our independent booksellers for their holiday reading suggestions.

I'm Susan Stamberg, NPR News.

MONTAGNE: Those recommendations and others from NPR folks including Ketzel Levine can be found on the Holiday Books page at

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

STEVE INSKEEP (Host): And I'm Steve Inskeep.

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