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A London Cabbie's Guide To Lit Gifts


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. No way around it. It's shopping season and for many people there's nothing like giving a book as a holiday gift. A book is not only a fine companion, it reflect something about both the giver and the receiver. And you don't have to change the batteries.

So we've invited our friend, Will Grozier, the London cabbie and the best-read man we know to help us tic through a shopping list with book recommendations for all kinds of family members and friends, maybe those who are especially tricky to figure out things for. Will, do glad to have you back.

WILL GROZIER: Yes, thanks Scott. How are you?

SIMON: I'm just fine thank you. Let's tick through them, this fictional family that we've created that you have to give us the shopping list for, OK? The first is an overbearing parent. What do you give him or her?

GROZIER: Well, my first reaction to this was to go back to Jonathan Franzen's "Freedom" because the patriarch of the novel, Walter Burglund, and he's an overbearing tyrant - at least at one reading. I mean, he may be other things as well. But - and I thought, well,, perhaps the idea is to send a message to these dysfunctional people that perhaps as they change their behavior they might not end up with the same result as him.

SIMON: What do you give a younger sibling who just annoys the heck out of you?

GROZIER: Sibling literature, I had to struggle a little bit with, but the one thing that stands out in recent years is "Half of a Yellow Sun" by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. It's the story of a Biafran war through the lens of twin sisters and the tensions that their tribal affiliations and their divergent political roots create.

And I have to confess that when I looked at this list of books I thought, well, if I'm going to recommend books, are these books that I would want to read again? And the answer was yes, except in this one, I have to say, I'd have to read it the first time 'round because I confess I listened to this on an audio CD, and what came out of that was that the narrator was a British Nigerian woman actor who absolutely complemented the text. So perhaps we'll go for the CD version of that.

SIMON: What might you suggest for an aunt or an uncle who is never wrong and knows everything?

GROZIER: Well, well, well...

SIMON: Not that I have one.


GROZIER: I'm going back to all the old stalwarts, the favorites, and this is a book that, when you and I perhaps came in, Scott, because remember when you first asked me what I was reading I told you I was reading James Gleick's biography of Richard Feynman.


GROZIER: The book is called "Genius," and, of course, Gleick refers to Feynman as the genius, but actually it's Gleick that's the genius because he brings science to the ordinary person. So if you say to an aunt, or maybe an uncle probably - we shouldn't discriminate in that way - you think you know it all? Well, Richard Feynman didn't know it all.

SIMON: Oh, that's hilarious.

GROZIER: Although, although, although he knew an awful lot.

SIMON: Finally, if you could put a paperback in everybody's holiday stocking...

GROZIER: Yeah. This would have to be "Personality Plus," Florence Littauer. This is a piece of pop psychology that's stood the test of time and it's an interpretation of the four humors of the body as set out by Hippocrates. Essentially, what it is, it's a sort of version of astrology made simple. So you have, according to Littauer, you have four principle humors, and they are sanguine, phlegmatic, melancholy and choleric.

And as I recall - I haven't got a copy here - but as I recall, in the back of the book there's a 40-point questionnaire, each with a multiple choice answer. So you can test yourself as to what your major personality is. And if I can just give you a rundown of very simply what the principle qualities are. A choleric is a strong-willed person that will brook no argument; a sanguine is a party animal; a phlegmatic is manana, we'll do it tomorrow; and the melancholy is a person that makes lists.


SIMON: Oh, that's hilarious.

GROZIER: But it would be great party occupation for Boxing Day or something like that, so that's going to go in.

SIMON: Will Grozier, our friend, the London taxi driver and the best-read man we know. Thanks so much for being with us, Will.

GROZIER: Thank you Scott, and Merry Christmas to all your listeners.

SIMON: Happy holidays to you, my friend.

GROZIER: Thank you, sir.

SIMON: By the way, Will's got one more recommendation for serious readers in the family: Slightly Foxed, a literary quarterly that writes reviews of books, not just the new ones but also classics. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.