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A London Cabbie's Summer Reading Picks

Jul 24, 2010 (Weekend Edition Saturday)

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Solar The Extinction Event A Week In December Brooklyn: A Novel Pearl Buck in China: Journey to The Good Earth

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Will Grozier, who drives a taxi in London, is no ordinary cabbie. NPR's Scott Simon calls him "the best-read man that I have ever encountered in my life" — which is why NPR occasionally calls Grozier up for reading recommendations.

Our cabbie likes to mix things up by reading both fiction and nonfiction; new releases and older volumes; serious tomes and lighter fare; and, of course, a healthy helping of whatever people leave in the back of his cab. Here's a list of what Will Grozier loves right now, books that captivate whether you're poring over them on the beach or sampling them on a short taxi ride.


Solar

By Ian McEwan, hardcover, 304 pages, Nan A. Talese, list price: $26.95

Grozier calls Solar, the latest novel by Ian McEwan, "an absolute hoot."

"It's completely in a different direction to anything that he's ever done before," Grozier says of the author who's best known for dark, weighty tales like Atonement and On Chesil Beach.

Solar focuses on Michael Beard, a Nobel Prize-winning, five-times-married physicist whose professional success is a dramatic contrast to his messy personal life. Beard's life changes when he inadvertently stumbles upon an amazing technology that can convert solar power into usable electric energy.

"But the way that he comes upon this is germane to the plot," Grozier says, "so I won't spoil it."

Suffice it to say that nothing is the same for Beard after this discovery — and that, according to Grozier, Solar is Ian McEwan "as you've never read him before."

(McEwan discusses what inspired Solar and the challenges of writing about brilliant scientists in this interview with NPR's Lynn Neary.)


The Extinction Event

By David Black, hardcover, 304 pages, Forge Books, list price: $25.99

David Black knows a thing or two about crafting suspenseful, tight, fast-paced stories. The author of 10 novels and works of nonfiction has also dabbled in television — he's penned and produced several episodes of Law & Order.

His latest novel,The Extinction Event, which Grozier calls "a rattling good read for the beach," is a noir mystery about lawyer Jack Slidell, who finds himself a suspect in a murder case after being caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. As he embarks on a journey to clear his name, Jack discovers that the murder is the least of his worries. More important is it's connection to the governmental cover-up of a potentially apocalyptic event.

Grozier is loathe to reveal any more details — "Again, I don't want to give too much away for your readers." Still, he can say with certainty that The Extinction Event has plenty of twists and turns, as well as a good amount of "sex and drugs and literary rock 'n' roll."


A Week in December

By Sebastian Faulks, hardcover, 400 pages, Doubleday, list price: $27.95

The name of the author behind A Week In December may look familiar to anyone who prefers their martinis shaken, not stirred. Sebastian Faulks is the British novelist who Ian Fleming's estate contracted to write a new James Bond book: Devil May Care, which was released in 2008.

"I don't know how well that went," Grozier says. He recalls seeing the Bond reboot in a secondhand store soon after it was published, a sign that Faulks' work may not have been entirely successful.

A Week In December, though, is another story altogether. While Grozier calls this novel a "little bit deeper, little bit darker than the first two" of his recommendations, it's also "a little more meaty."

Faulks follows seven people over the course of one week in London.

"There's a hedge fund manager, a London Underground train driver, a down-on-his-luck lawyer," Grozier says. "Oh, and he has some potential bombers that have been brainwashed by an Islamic fundamentalist."

Members of this piecemeal party eventually interact with one another over the course of the book, which attacks the greed of the banking industry and the evils of fundamentalism. (Faulks talks about the ideas he explores in A Week In December in this interview.)


Brooklyn: A Novel

By Colm Toibin, paperback, 272 pages, Scribner, list price: $15

Next up is a book that Grozier "will challenge the guys to read."Brooklyn is the story of a young Irish immigrant making her way in the Big Apple.

"Like many of the Irish writers that I've read in recent years," Grozier says, "[Colm Toibin] seems to have a very, very deft touch when it comes to portraying women."

Toibin's heroine, Eilis Lacey, migrates across the Atlantic in the early 1950s to find a better job. The journey has an impact on more than just Eilis's bank account.

"Almost imperceptibly," Grozier says, "[she] undergoes a fundamental change of approach because of her new surroundings, her new environment, her new interaction[s]."

But when she must travel back to her small home town in Ireland after a devastating tragedy, Eilis finds herself torn between her family and the life she's made for herself in the States.

"Ultimately, the story revolves around the decision that she has to make at the end of that rather tormented period," Grozier says. Of course, he won't spoil just what that decision is. (NPR's Maureen Corrigan calls Brooklyn a "profound story about ordinary limited options" and Jacki Lyden saysToibin writes "with care and precision.")


Pearl Buck in China: Journey to The Good Earth

By Hilary Spurling, hardcover, 320 pages, Simon & Schuster, list price: $27

As biographer Hilary Spurling notes — and Grozier quotes — Pearl Buck is in a unique position: the Nobel Prize-winning writer best known for penning The Good Earth is "a writer that's admired in the States but not read, and read in China but not admired." Buck finally gets the attention she deserves in Pearl Buck In China, which chronicles the American author's childhood.

The daughter of fervent Christian missionaries, Buck grew up roaming around the Chinese countryside. Her background made her an outcast in China and also alienated her from her classmates in the U.S. when she returned to attend Randolph-Macon College in Virginia.

Grozier says he found himself sympathizing with Buck in a way he hadn't expected when he learned that "what she did to escape this very, very difficult upbringing was to run up a tree and read Dickens." Moments like this endear Buck to modern readers and serve as testimony as to why she deserves to come out of obscurity. (NPR's Maureen Corrigan says that Spurling's biography "rescues Buck and some of her best books from the 'stink' of literary condescension.")

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