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NPR’s best books of 2009

By Deirdre Parker Smith
dp1@salisburypost.com
Best books of the year, in case anyone asks, are the ones you most enjoyed.
They don’t have to be published in the calendar year at all.
But making lists of bests is something lots of people do, and reading lists of bests can turn you on to something you’ve never heard of.
I suggest you go to NPR.org and look at their lists of best books, in numerous categories, from best debut fiction to gardening books to books to warm a winter’s night.
For example, John Freeman was so impressed by “Tinkers,” by Paul Harding, he says it should be named among the “few perfect debut American novels.”
Glen Weldon recommends “The Five Best Books To Share With Your Friends” ó among them, “Everything Matters!” by Ron Currie Jr., about a man who hears, while he’s still in the womb, when the world will end. It’s coming up pretty quickly. Weldon calls it “beautiful, sad and haunting.”
John McAlley’s recommends the best gift books of 2009.
I’ve seen one of his picks, “Norman Rockwell: Behind The Camera,” by Ron Schick. It’s about the photographs behind his art works. You’ll learn a tremendous amount about composition just from thumbing through it.
In “Season’s Readings: Top Picks From Indie Booksellers,” one of the recommendations has piqued my interest in a writer I know little about. “Raymond Carver: A Writer’s Life” has earned recommendations from numerous sources. It details his hardscrabble childhood and his transformation as a writer.
Another pick from the Independent booksellers is Jill McCorkle’s “Going Away Shoes.” McCorkle did a reading and booksigning here, delighting her small audience. The stories are all about women and love ó and moving on. (Reviewed in the Salisbury Post on Nov. 15).
For something a little more intense, another one from the list is “The Paris Review Interviews” edited by Philip Gourevitch. More than 60 literary lions, from William Faulkner to Stephen King, are interviewed. The book has been called “an MFA in a box.”
And a little more literary snootiness comes in “Vanity Fair’s Proust Questionnaire,” edited by Graydon Carter, illustrated by Risko. The Proust questionnaire, created by ó yep ó leads to provocative answers.
Have you read all the cookbooks that came out in 2009, the year we stayed home instead of eating out?
Try these on the NPR list: “The Pleasures of Cooking for One,” by Judith Jones, who insists it is worth it to cook for yourself. More delicious than takeout.
Don’t miss “Gourmet Today: More Than 1,000 All-New Recipes for the Contemporary Kitchen,” by Ruth Reichl. NPR’s commentator laments, along with the rest of us, the untimely death of the glossy magazine that at least made us think it was possible to whip up a feast from around the world.
They also tap “Rose’s Heavenly Cakes” by Rose Levy Beranbaum. The photos alone will make you salivate. The recipes take you a step further than basic pound cake.
For those winter nights, Alan Cheuse picks, among others, “American Fantastic Tales,” edited by Peter Straub and “Manhood for Amateurs: The Pleasures and Regrets of a Husband, Father, and Son,” by Michael Chabon.
Librarian Nancy Pearl, a regular NPR contributor, names “Under-The-Radar Gift Books.”She loves “Spooner,” by Peter Dexter. It “tells a coming-of-age story that is funny and heartbreaking, frequently at the same time.”
And she’s crazy about “When Wanders Cease To Roam: A Traveler’s Journal Of Staying Put,” by Vivian Swift, illustrated with the author’s watercolor drawings.
She recommends two children’s books, especially for the illustrations. “In The Town, All Year ‘Round, by Rotraut Susanne Berner, and “Bubble Trouble,” by Margaret Mahy.
For memoirs, Heller McAlpin suggests “Stitches,” by David Small. “Caldecott-winning children’s book author David Small’s stunning graphic memoir is about losing ó and finding ó his voice during a harrowing childhood in a silent, angry household.” The illustrations are his voice. Stunning.
NPR reporter and commentator Lynn Neary has chosen “Best Books For A Book Club,” including “Cutting For Stone,” by Abraham Verghese, which was, indeed a pick for our book club, much praised by all who read this huge novel.
“The Interrogative Mood: A Novel?” by Padgett Powell. Are you ready for a book written entirely in questions? How do questions about underwear and killing animals fit in the same paragraph? Is this worth tackling for discussion’s sake? Neary thinks so.
Finally, Ketzel Levine offers “2009’s Crop Of Great Gardening Books,” including “Rodale’s Ultimate Encyclopedia Of Organic Gardening: The Indispensable Green Resource For Every Gardener,” by Fern Marshall Bradley, Barbara Ellis and Ellen Phillips. So many gardeners I know have recommended this, it must be almost indispensible.
For “sophisticated plant porn at its bigger-than-life finest,” try “Bulb,” by Anna Pavord.
Or turn back to one of my favorites from the last year, “Wicked Plants: The Weed That Killed Lincoln’s Mother And Other Botanical Atrocities,” by Amy Stewart, illustrated by Briony Morrow-Cribbs. Fascinating stuff. (Reviewed in the Post on May 31).
You still have time to read a few of these before the deluge of 2010’s best books. And long winter’s nights are among the best for the inner world of reading.

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