Three Books Alan Cheuse Thinks You Should Read This Winter

Dec 16, 2013
Originally published on December 16, 2013 7:06 pm
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And we end this hour with a little help for your holiday shopping. It's time for our December don't-miss booklist from reviewer Alan Cheuse.

ALAN CHEUSE, BYLINE: I wish - I wish instead of just recommending these books, I could set them down at your doorstep. The collected stories of John Updike, the second volume of T.C. Boyle's collected stories, and Stanley Crouch's book about the rise and times of our genius saxophone player Charlie Parker.

These are deep books, books that you can get lost in. Books that transport you to the middle of the 20th century in Updike's work, to the strangely familiar of our own everyday in the Boyle stories, and back to the swirl of smoke and sound in a Kansas City nightclub in the late '30s where you get the sense of what makes a great jazz artist rise to the heights of his power.

Sad to think that we won't have any new stories from John Updike, one of the last century's masters. But so many here in the two volumes of his collected stories, 186 by my count, stories to read, reread, savor over the course of a cold season. Updike's genius in the short form spills out of these many, many pages. Listen to him read from the first page of his signature coming-of-age story "A&P" in which a cashier is distracted by three young women who enter the store.

JOHN UPDIKE: The one that caught my eye first was the one in the plaid green two-piece. She was a chunky kid with a good tan and a sweet, broad, soft looking can with those two crescents of white just under it where the sun never seems to hit at the top of the backs of her legs. I stood there with my hand on a box of Hi-Ho crackers trying to remember if I rang it up or not.

I ring it up again and the customer starts giving me hell. She's one of these cash register watchers, a witch about 50 with rouge on her cheekbones and no eyebrows, and I know it made her day to trip me up.

CHEUSE: The voice of the story, the carefully sculpted expression, the wonder behind it all that we're alive and this is the way we live.

T.C. BOYLE: There were two kinds of truths, good truths and hurtful ones.

CHEUSE: The distinctive voice of T.C. Boyle reading from "Balto," a story from the newly published second volume of the complete T.C. Boyle stories.

BOYLE: That was what her father's attorney was telling her and she was listening, doing her best, her face a small glazed crescent of light where the sun glanced off the yellow kitchen wall to illuminate her. But it was hard, hard because it was weekday after school and this was her free time, her chance to breeze into the 7-Eleven or instant message her friends before dinner and homework closed the day down.

Hard, too, because her father was there sitting on a stool at the kitchen counter sipping something out of a mug. Not coffee, definitely not coffee.

CHEUSE: A father-daughter story about truth and lies and how they change an already troubled family. Think gargantuan, three entire story collections brought together here, plus more than a dozen so far uncollected pieces and you have the opportunity to keep some reader you love supplied with inventive and often crushingly comic contemporary short fiction all the way into the spring.


CHEUSE: The most extraordinary nonfiction book I've read all year, "Kansas City Lightning: The Rise and Times of Charlie Parker," by critic and culture historian Stanley Crouch. This book is a full-dress history of the manners, mores, music and politics of young Charlie Parker's Kansas City and the explosive arrival of Kansas City jazz and its premier soloist Charlie Parker, the Bird, in New York.

Wonderful book, told in muscular prose, based on nearly 30 years of interviews and research and the music nearly leaps off the page. Three wonderful books to give to the best people you know for any reason this winter.


CORNISH: That was reviewer Alan Cheuse. His three winter book selections are John Updike's "Collected Stories," T.C. Boyle's "Stories II" and a biography from Stanley Crouch called "Kansas City Lightning: The Rise and Times of Charlie Parker." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.