MADELEINE BRAND, host:
This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand.
ALEX CHADWICK, host:
I'm Alex Chadwick. Summer's not that fun if you're an indoors kind of person. TV's full of reruns and Hollywood's got blockbusters that maybe you should save to rent in the fall. I asked NPR's Karen Grigsby Bates, extraordinarily well read, for tips on new summer books.
Karen, I think most of us keep a list of to-be-read books, and here you are to add to my pile.
KAREN GRIGSBY BATES reporting:
Yeah, I am. I hope you'll forgive me, Alex. Let's start with some new biographies. I know that's a category you and I both like a lot. The late Julia Child had put off writing her autobiography for decades. When she finally started to do it a couple of years ago, she died before it was finished.
CHADWICK: You know, but I've heard about this book from a woman at the farmer's market. She says it's terrific, but it's an unfinished work?
BATES: Well, it's not an unfinished work. My Life in France, which is its title, was finished by her great-nephew Alex Prud'Homme. And it's very Julia in tone throughout the whole thing. It really is a love letter to France and its food and to her lifelong collaboration with her husband, Paul, who photographed most of her work.
CHADWICK: There has been a lot written about Julia Child already. What is new here, though?
BATES: Well, what this book does is tell us how really hard she worked to write Mastering the Art of French Cooking. That was the multi-volume set that presented recipes for classic French cuisine to eager American cooks in the 1960s.
CHADWICK: And still selling well today.
BATES: It is. There's been a revised version of it and it's out and it's still doing very, very well. And that and her television series that you might remember, The French Chef, are what made her a household word to many Americans.
CHADWICK: Okay, what else?
BATES: How about this book?
CHADWICK: The Stolen Prince by Hugh Barnes.
BATES: Yup. It's the story of an enslaved African child who, through a very interesting set of circumstances, winds up in Russia. He's eventually adopted by Czar Peter the Great himself and named Gannibal. And apparently the story of Gannibal is somewhat known inside Russia, but not much outside the country.
CHADWICK: An enslaved African, and this is the original black Russian then?
BATES: Yeah, he is. Peter wanted to see if lavishing this kid with the best education possible would quote-unquote "civilize" him, so he was tutored and Abram Petrovich Gannibal became a prominent intellectual, an invaluable military strategist, and the great-great-grandfather of writer Alexander Pushkin.
CHADWICK: I've never heard this story. I've been around a little.
BATES: I know. I've been told bits and pieces of it float around Russia, along with a lot of misinformation about who Gannibal was. But Barnes, who is a journalist and a Russian specialist, spent a lot of time doing his homework and the result is this really intriguing book.
CHADWICK: Okay, that's biography. How about some fiction for the hammock?
BATES: You have probably seen big print ads for a really thick novel called The Whole World Over by Julia Glass. Her first book was the best-seller Three Junes, which was published in 2002. And while I'm normally suspicious of overly hyped books, I have to say I was really taken with this one.
It's told through the point of view of several main characters, a gay restaurateur, a young woman who's lost her memory after a horrific accident, and a chef and her psychotherapist husband who are struggling to keep their marriage together. All radically different people, but they do have one thing in common, their search to find true and loyal love.
And Glass's ability to describe the rhythm of everyday life, how people really speak to each other and what they think to themselves is just amazing. And I should warn you, Alex, that some people will find her attention to detail distracting, because she goes into a lot of it. But I thought that made the novel richer.
CHADWICK: All right, Karen, you like to talk about cookbooks as well. What have you got on the grill for summer?
BATES: Well, we do have a book on nothing but ribs, and that will be on our website, but consider The Asian Grill by Corinne Trang. There's an Asian version of ribs, but also things like spicy Thai-basil-and-lime marinated jumbo shrimp, and grilled baby eggplant with ginger-miso paste and some wonderful noodle dishes that will keep you out of the kitchen for awhile.
CHADWICK: That really does sound good. How about some off-beat books?
BATES: How about the most off-beat one I could find? A design book based on dictator style.
CHADWICK: You mean like dictators Stalin, Milosevic?
BATES: And Ferdinand Marcos and Idi Amin and Juan Peron, yup.
CHADWICK: There are photos of these people's homes? This is what this book is?
BATES: This is what this book is. It's called Dictator Style by Peter York and it's kind of an architectural digest for the democratically challenged. So you get to see the interiors of these guys' palaces and it's pretty interesting.
CHADWICK: Well, like what?
BATES: Like a lot of these iron men really like chintz. Or this has showed up a lot in their living quarters. Saddam Hussein had absolutely lurid taste in art, sort of a pornographic comic book style. And the Eastern European despots were very fond of Jacuzzi type tubs. So, Alex, if you'd like to become the despot of NPR West, you need this book. It will inspire you to gold plate all your bathroom fixtures, hang a plastic chandelier in your office, and take a hint from Mussolini, Hitler, and Mobutu Sese Seko: you can never have too many portraits of yourself hanging around.
CHADWICK: Karen Grigsby Bates, thank you so much.
BATES: I hear and obey, my leader.
CHADWICK: DAY TO DAY's complete summer reading list is at our website, npr.org.