'Day to Day' Holiday Book Guide Day to Day reporter Karen Grigsby Bates, doing double duty as literary editor, shares her list of books that would make great gifts for the holidays.
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'Day to Day' Holiday Book Guide

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'Day to Day' Holiday Book Guide

'Day to Day' Holiday Book Guide

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Back now with DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick.

If you have not yet gone out to do your holiday shopping, it is getting late. But help is as close as your neighborhood bookstore, and we have more help here in the form of our books editor, Karen Grigsby Bates, with us to share the third annual DAY TO DAY holiday book list.

Karen, what are you reading?


Let's say what I've leafed through and what I've read, Alex. Let's start with history and biography. There is a very good volume of biography out on Andrew Jackson, the warrior hero of the War of 1812. Remember him?

CHADWICK: Yes, I do. I remember him every time I pull out a $20 bill. He's the president on there.

BATES: That's the guy, and that's how most people remember him, and this biography by H.W. Brands takes a look at a man who may have been the first president to represent the common man as opposed to the voting elite. He was charismatic and he was also full of contradictions. He owned slaves, yet he had Haitians fight along American troops during the Battle of New Orleans. He apparently massacred Indian communities with impunity, yet he seriously considered adopting one of the Indians that he'd orphaned. Some consider him to be the template from which Abraham Lincoln was eventually struck.

CHADWICK: OK, the Andrew Jackson biography. What else?

BATES: An autobiography by John Hope Franklin, who's know for writing American history.

CHADWICK: This is the scholar--he was also one of the key people appointed by President Clinton to his Commission on Race in America.

BATES: Right, and that--this book is Franklin's personal story, but it's also the story of the evolution of America from a violently segregated nation to where we are today. And this is national history through a personal lens and it's very effective.

CHADWICK: OK, how about fiction this year, Karen?

BATES: Read any good movies lately, Alex? There are reissued Truman Capote stories. There's a new edition of Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice" and a collection of Anton Chekhov's novellas, which have not had a lot of exposure in the United States. There's a book that's all five of his novellas bound into one volume.

CHADWICK: All right, those are the classics. What about the really hot stuff that's new and you should be reading it just to be keeping up?

BATES: Besides "The Da Vinci Code," you mean.

CHADWICK: Still "The Da Vinci Code"?

BATES: Still, but there are others. In the non-fiction department, John Berendt, who made Savannah famous in "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil," is back, only this time he's torturing Venice, much to the relief of Savannians. "City of Falling Angels" really does give you a wonderful armchair tour of one of the most beautiful, mysterious cities in the world, and if the history of the city doesn't thrill you, the gossip is first-rate.

CHADWICK: OK, let's say there are kids on your shopping list. There are on almost everybody's shopping list. How about books for children?

BATES: For really little kids, here's "The First Day of Winter" by Denise Fleming. Little kids will really love the art, which is charming. It centers around how a group of friends help to build a snowman on the first day of winter and these things that they keep adding to the snowman. Their parents will like how, as the story builds, their memory skills are challenged. You know, there's a hat, there's gloves, there's things you put on the snowman. And so it's helping them to count. It's helping them to remember things in sequence. And it's a really pretty little book.

CHADWICK: OK, how about older kids?

BATES: A very cool book has just been published about adolescence and friendship and mythology. It's called "The Lightning Thief," and Harry Potter types who are tired of Harry Potter...

CHADWICK: Or at least between installments.

BATES: ...yup--those guys just might love this story. It centers on a 12-year-old named Percy Jackson who thinks he's a weirdo, stupid loser in a boarding school full of weirdo, stupid losers, but he's really a bright kid with attention deficit disorder. And--oh, yeah, Percy is short for Perseus and his dad turns out to be Poseidon, lord of the oceans, and his mom's a mere mortal.

CHADWICK: Well, you know, that's got a kind of a little Harry Potter-ish flavor in there, doesn't it?

BATES: It does and, like Harry, Percy has two sidekicks, a satyr named Grover and a girl named Annabelle, whose mother is Athena. So she's also a demigod. And the three of them set off on a journey that will test them and tell them who they are and what their purpose in life is. And I have to give parents out there a warning. If you give this to your kid, please wait for him or her to finish it before you snatch it. It's so annoying not to be able to finish your book. But it's a book that adults will find very compelling.

CHADWICK: OK, one more category, especially for this time of year. Gift books, those spectacularly beautiful books good to give for presents or go through yourself.

BATES: Well, we've already talked about "The Complete Calvin and Hobbes" compilation here on DAY TO DAY. That's a beautiful box set of the comic strips. There's also another collection, this one from The New Yorker. You know, they had a huge book of cartoons last year that we talked about.

CHADWICK: Right, yeah.

BATES: This year it's "The Complete New Yorker" DVD collection, which is kind of like having your own personal New Yorker archive. There are other gift books. There's a whole lot of other books, but we're out of time.

CHADWICK: Which is why we have a Web site. Our gift to you, dear listeners, is the complete DAY TO DAY holiday book list online at our Web site, npr.org, compiled by Karen Grigsby Bates.

Karen, thank you again.

BATES: Oh, it's a pleasure, Alex. Happy holidays.

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