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Alan Cheuse's Holiday Book Picks

With just four days until Hanukkah, 10 days until Christmas and 11 to Kwanzaa, it's the height of the holiday shopping season. If you're thinking books, reviewer Alan Cheuse has compiled a list of recommendations sure to delight:

Don Quixote, by Miguel de Cervantes, translation by Edith Grossman (Ecco)

"For lovers of the novel there is only one book this season that comes close to being the perfect gift. It's a new translation of Don Quixote and shows veteran translator Edith Grossman working at the top of her powers."

The Early Stories: 1953-1975, by John Updike (Knopf)

"The Early Stories contains over a hundred stories. I don't think it puts too much of a burden on Updike's early fiction to say that listening to him read it is like listening to a young musical genius at work." (Hear Updike read from his short stories at the sidebar to the left.)

I Sailed with Magellan, by Stuart Dybek (Farrar Straus & Giroux)

"I Sailed With Magellan is a lovely collection of lyrical pieces, loosely tied together, about coming-of-age and the working class, something you can give to anyone who cares about modern short fiction."

Wild East, Stories from the Last Frontier, edited by Boris Fishman (National Book Network)

"More lively new fiction, all about the experience of living in contemporary eastern Europe, which means drinking and loving and smoking and fighting -- and storytelling."

Fifth Book of Peace, by Maxine Hong Kingston (Knopf)

"Storytelling is everything in Maxine Hong Kingston’s Fifth Book of Peace, a singular mélange of memoir, fiction, and reportage. The book concerns the manuscript of a novel that Hong Kingston lost to a California wildfire in the early '90s when her house burned down, and the parallels she notices between her work and ancient Chinese texts."

One Vast Winter Count: The Native American West Before Lewis and Clark, by Colin G. Calloway (University of Nebraska Press)

"The saga of the native people of the American West in the centuries leading up to the Lewis and Clark expedition. Good reading for long winter nights."

The Complete Poems of Kenneth Rexroth (Copper Canyon Press)

"The California poet who died in 1982 in his late 70s and is buried in a grave overlooking the Pacific, Rexroth's probably best known as the 'Father of the Beat Generation.' These poems reveal that great beauty lies beyond that cliché."

Eragon, by Christopher Paolini (Knopf)

"For fans of Tolkien and Harry Potter, I'd like to suggest Eragon, a fantasy novel by one of the youngest members of America's writing family: Montana prodigy Christopher Paolini. Now only 19 years old, Paolini began working on this novel when he was 15 and completed it after his graduation from high school. It's about the heroic adventures of a young country boy and his friend Saphira, a young dragon."

The Conch Bearer, by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni (Millbrook Press)

"Another book I think young readers may enjoy. Divakaruni wrote The Conch Bearer for her two young sons. It's the story of a quest to return a magical conch shell to a sacred valley high in the Himalayas."

American Music: Photographs, Annie Leibovitz (Random House)

"Music and stars and legends and the not-so-famous crowd in Annie Leibovitz's arresting new book of photographs, all here in one long collage."

Reviewer Alan Cheuse teaches writing at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va.

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Alan Cheuse died on July 31, 2015. He had been in a car accident in California earlier in the month. He was 75. Listen to NPR Special Correspondent Susan Stamburg's retrospective on his life and career.