Best Books Of Winter: Alan Cheuse Makes His List Literary Santa delivers his list of favorite fiction, nonfiction and poetry — a box of the best books from 2010 that he'd like to bring to your house on a snowy morning.
NPR logo

Best Books Of Winter: Alan Cheuse Makes His List

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Best Books Of Winter: Alan Cheuse Makes His List

Best Books Of Winter: Alan Cheuse Makes His List

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Robert Siegel.

So many books, so little time before Christmas, so a little help now for those of you in need of gift ideas for your reader friends. Our reviewer, Alan Clause, has sifted through a mountain of new books, and he has these recommendations for you.

ALAN CHEUSE: Call me Alan Claus. And you better watch out. Here is the box of books I would like to deliver to your house early on a winter holiday morning.

First, for adolescents with an appetite for fiction, I want to recommend a new novel called "Matched," science fiction by former high school teacher Ally Condie.

Her book takes the worry of dating and marriage to the nth degree in an America of the future. Let's listen to Condie describing her young heroine Cassia.

Ms. ALLY CONDIE (Author, "Matched"): The rounded lid of the compact distorts my features a little, but it's still me: my green eyes; my coppery brown hair, which looks more golden in the compact than it does in real life; my straight, small nose; my chin with a trace of a dimple like my grandfather's; all the outward characteristics that make me Cassia Maria Reyas(ph), 17 years old exactly.

CHEUSE: There's another attractive young heroine in a deceptively bland story from the new collection "20 Under 40: Stories from the New Yorker." The book is edited by the magazine's fiction chief, Deborah Treisman.

The story is called "The Warm Fuzzies." Chris Adrian wrote it. Here he is describing a young girl growing up in an extended family of musical evangelicals.

Mr. CHRIS ADRIAN (Author, "The Warm Fuzzies"): She could understand if there were two boys in him, and since she had felt there were two girls in her: one for the regular voice that said regular things about people and one that spoke a language made up only of cruel insults. If she stared in the bathroom mirror long enough, she thought she could get to that other girl's features superimposed in brief flashes upon hers. Her eyes were small, and her nose turned up like a pig's, and her mouth was a colorless gash in her face.

Molly(ph) tripped up on the beat and came late to the chorus. Are you a warm fuzzy? Are you a warm fuzzy? Are you going to be a warm fuzzy or a cold, cold, cold, cold, prickly?

CHEUSE: I found all the stories in "20 Under 40" dazzling, marvelously composed and wonderfully entertaining: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichies "Birdsong," a revelatory tale out of contemporary Nigeria focusing on a troubled young woman, stuck in a world of traffic jams, and soul-breaking adultery; and the story called "Blue Water Djinn," a mysterious account of a drowning in an exotic locale by the noticeably talented Tea Obreht; and for the young reader in all of us...

Mr. GUILLERMO DEL TORO (Author, "The Fall"): The master jabs a dragon in the ribs with the end of his walking stick, the old man hearing and feeling a crack, curling to a ball on the floor. As my shadow falls over you, said dragon, so does it fall over this planet.

CHEUSE: Yes, vampires are among us again in "The Fall," by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan. This is a vampire novel par excellence. Del Toro directed the highly praised movie "Pans Labyrinth," and it turns out that his vampire trilogy, of which "The Fall" is the second installment, is just as enthralling, a terrifying horror movie on the page.

Mr. DEL TORO: First I infected your people. Now I have infected the globe. Your half-dark world was not enough. How long I have looked forward to this permanent, lasting dusk. This warm, blue-green rock shivers at my touch.

CHEUSE: My next choice is a selection of letters between one of our own countrys finest writers, the much admired novelist and story writer James Salter, and a late friend of his.

In these exchanges, we get to witness the back-and-forth between a master and an apprentice, which forms the heart of relations between literary generations.

Mr. JAMES SALTER (Author): I met Robert Phelps in 1970. I had known some writers, but he for some reason was my true idea of a writer. So for years and years, we wrote letters. And here's one from the fall of 1971, a letter from me to him.

Mr. SALTER: You're a beautiful writer, Robert, and a saintly one. Of course, this is a youthful book. You hadn't found the streambed that runs from within to the page. You were admiring things you don't truly admire. They merely possess a power to disturb you. And you're only beginning to understand how to focus the enormous forces, the knowledge and the anti-knowledge within you.

You must write as if it were a letter to someone you love. Well, I know you do that. Do you?

CHEUSE: James Salter, reading from a letter from the volume "Memorable Days."

And now here's a book that spans a lot of time and embraces the entire spectrum of human emotion, "The Poets Laureate Anthology," edited by Elizabeth Hun Schmidt.

Ms. RITA DOVE (Former Poet Laureate): My grandmother told me there'd be good days to counter the dark ones, with blue skies in the heart as far as the soul could see. She said you could measure a life in as many ways as there were to bake a poundcake, but you still needed real butter and eggs for a good one -poundcake that is, but I knew what she meant.

CHEUSE: Rita Dove, poet laureate from 1993 to 1995, reading from her poem "This Life."

We've had poets in residence at the Library of Congress since 1937. And the post morphed into the job of Poet Laureate in 1986 when Robert Penn Warren took over. Before Warren and after, some of our most marvelous native poets - Robert Frost, Robert Lowell, Richard Wilbur, Gwendolyn Brooks, Robert Pinsky, to name a few - wandered the halls of our grand marble national library on Capitol Hill and gave readings and talks, 43 poets all told.

Editor Schmidt has included work by each of them in this valuable volume, a lovely gift - how do they phrase it on our planet? - for the poetry lover in you and in those you love.

For the coldest part of the cold season, a little bonus book of poems, "Traveling Light" by Linda Pastan, it comes out in January. Wallace Stevens wrote that death is the mother of beauty. Youll accept that as fact when you read Linda Pastans dark rhyming lyrics about love and impending loss.

The poems may shake you, so be forewarned. They certainly shook me. But Pastan also has a light side, as she shows off in this little verbal ornament for the holiday in the poem called "Noel".

Ms. LINDA PASTAN (Poet): Like a single ornament, the red cardinal on a pine outside the window is our only decoration until the snow.

(Soundbite of song, "White Christmas")

CHEUSE: And for those winter hours when you're alone in the dark, and you've read down to your core, some wordless pleasures: jazz, iconographic portraits of jazz greats by the late great photographer Herman Leonard, with a foreword by Wynton Marsalis.

Merry Winter. Happy, happy reading.

(Soundbite of music)

SIEGEL: Alan Cheuse teaches writing at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. You can review his holiday recommendations at our website,

(Soundbite of song, "White Christmas")

Copyright © 2010 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.