Independent Booksellers' Picks: Fiction and Food A trio of independent booksellers have mostly novels and food books on their minds this holiday season. The titles they've picked range from An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England to a new translation of War and Peace.
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Independent Booksellers' Picks: Fiction and Food

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Independent Booksellers' Picks: Fiction and Food

Independent Booksellers' Picks: Fiction and Food

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Deck the shells with boughs of good books. That's the seasonal wish from a trio of independent booksellers. What's a bough of books look like? Anyway, we get in touch with one of these booksellers from time to time for ideas on new and old books to consider.

NPR special correspondent Susan Stamberg says this holiday time, our bookselling friends have fiction on their minds, as well as food.

SUSAN STAMBERG: Reading about food is pretty low calorie, which is partly why Steve Shapiro at Rainy Day Books in Kansas City, Kansas, likes "Secret Ingredients," an anthology of food and drink writing from the New Yorker. The book begins with a cartoon - E.B. White's caption for a dinnertime scene between parent and child.

Mr. STEVE SHAPIRO (Book Maven, Rainy Day Books): The mother is saying, it's broccoli, dear. And the little girl saying, I say it's spinach and I say the hell with it.

STAMBERG: Calvin Trillin, John Cheever and M.F.K. Fisher, so many more writers appear in "Secret Ingredients." Anthony Bourdain has a list of don'ts for dining out.

Mr. SHAPIRO: Don't order fish at the end of the week because, of course, it won't be any good. Don't go to a restaurant on Sunday because all the really good waiters were there on Saturday nights.

STAMBERG: Another food book is suggested by Lucia Silva at Portrait of a Bookstore in Studio City, California, sort of final food book actually. It's called "My Last Supper." Photographer Melanie Dunea asked some world-famous chefs that world-famous question: What would you eat for your very last repast? Rick Bayless, Thomas Keller, Alain Ducasse and others picked fastidious fancy dishes for sure and some stripped-down simple ones, too.

Ms. MELANIE DUNEA (Photographer): Actually, scrambled eggs make six or seven appearances.

STAMBERG: Also radishes, for a last supper? A cluttered kitchen is a kind of a character in E.L. Konigsburg's novel, "The Mysterious Edge of the Heroic World." Rona Brinlee in Florida says it's a young adult novel that grown ups will like. Two sixth-grade boys sort through a neighbor's house, helping her to move to a senior residence.

Mr. RONA BRINLEE (Owner, The Book Mark): The kitchen itself was a time capsule. The counters were edged in ribbed chrome and topped with pink patterned Formica that was peeling at the seams. There was a toaster oven but no microwave. The stove was the width of two regular stoves. It was gleaming bright clean and obviously had not been used in a very long time. And we take courage to turn it on. Cold cereal and Vichyssoise would be better menu choices.

STAMBERG: There's also a turquoise telephone, quite suitable for this aged Auntie Mame.

Ms. BRINLEE: She swans around in a caftan and glittered pantsuits. She was once an opera singer and she lives in this house that's filled with art.

STAMBERG: Rona Brinlee says the "Mysterious Edge of the Heroic World" is funny, tragic, full of art, war history, and moral dilemmas - a most satisfying read. Rona also likes "Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England." Brock Clarke's book is a novel, not a how-to book despite the title. It seems the protagonist accidentally burns down Emily Dickinson's homestead. Alas, two people die in the fire, the fellow goes to prison for 10 years…

Mr. BRINLEE: And unbeknownst to him, while he's in jail his father is getting letters that says when your son gets out of prison could you have him burn down Mark Twain's house or could you have him burn down Hawthorne's house. And so when he comes home out of jail, lo and behold, houses start burning but he's not doing it.

STAMBERG: So who is? Rona says "Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England" is a good mystery and a terrific story about the power of literature, plus there's a surprise ending, which we will not give away. But we will tell you a ghost story - "Ghost," a new novel by Alan Lightman.

Ms. BRINLEE: The only person I know who's ever had a joint appointment at MIT both in physics and the humanities. So he's just uniquely qualified to write a book that makes you contemplate the relationship between science and art.

STAMBERG: Alan Lightman tells the story of a normal lonely guy who works in a mortuary and thinks he sees something. This encounter alters his life forever. People think he has supernatural powers. Brinlee says "Ghost" makes the reader wonder what's out there. Are there other dimensions? What do we believe? And what kind of evidence do we need?

Ms. BRINLEE: Just your usual run-at-the-mail morning at the supermarket kind of ponderings. It's kind of got that who kind of effect that makes you start to question things.

STAMBERG: The writing of Truman Capote has a whoo-whoo effect on Lucia Silva at Portrait of a Bookstore. She is a huge Capote fan, and she's thrilled with the collection of all his essays. It's called "Portraits and Observations." Capote was the great observer, Lucia says, and this chronological collection has him observing celebrities, criminals and cities - New Orleans, Brooklyn, Manhattan in winter.

Ms. LUCIA SILVA (Manager, Portraits of a Bookstore): The first snow, and skaters skimming in the park. The fine fur coats of the funny cold country children, the Chute-the-Chute at Coney, subway chewing-gum machines, the magical automat, the islands and the river and the glitter upon the twilight bridge, the blue upward floating of a Paramount band.

STAMBERG: "Portraits and Observations" offers brief essays by Truman Capote, but none as brief as the newspaper sketches written in a single year, 1906, by the French intellectual Felix Feneon. Newly translated and collected under the title, "Novels in Three Lines." These stylish, little news items all reporting real events are like little poems. Lucia reads.

Ms. SILVA: (Reading) Again and again, Madame C of Sawan(ph) was prevented from hanging herself from her window bolt. Exasperated, she fled across the fields.

STAMBERG: And this, "Novels in Three Lines" by Felix Feneon, Lucia finds something beautiful and breathy.

Ms. SILVA: They're leaving, those Laotian dancers who graced the fair at Marseille; they're leaving today aboard the Polynesian.

STAMBERG: Oh, can you just see him standing on the shore, waving a handkerchief?

Ms. SILVA: I know.

STAMBERG: For our final holiday book idea, we go from "Novels in Three Lines" to a novel in 1,200-plus pages - "War and Peace" by Leo Tolstoy. Come on, wouldn't you just love to tell a friend, sorry, I can't go to dinner. I'm reading "War and Peace?" It's the early 1800s and Napoleon invades Russia. Steve Shapiro in Kansas says Tolstoy creates an epic tale with wonderful, unforgettable characters.

Mr. SHAPIRO: I always think of him as having this animating spirit. I mean, you can see that in Balanchine's chorography, van Gogh's paintings. You can hear it in Led Zeppelin's music. You see it here on every page.

STAMBERG: To misquote another Tolstoy epic, happy book lovers are all alike. Our three independent booksellers wish you happy holidays, as do I.

Susan Stamberg, NPR News.

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INSKEEP: All their reading suggestions and more, it can found at

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Renee is back on Monday. I'm Steve Inskeep.

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