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Book Selections to Nourish the Mind at the Holidays


You can print these titles, along with all our other year-end picks, using this master list.

We need extra nourishment in the winter season. To me, that means feeding the body and feeding the mind. I have a recommendation that combines the two: Life is Meals: A Food Lover's Book of Days. Award-winning fiction writer James Salter and his playwright wife, Kay Salter, offer a year's worth of deliciously textured day-by-day entries about preparation, tasting, culinary history and personal history.

For some good after-dinner reading: Thomas Pynchon's new 1,000-page novel, Against the Day, should last several evenings. Set between 1893 and the aftermath of World War I, the story features revenge plot and dozens of subplots filled with charming characters, such as ardent boy sleuths in air balloons and dogs that read Henry James.

Against the Day is so long and dense that it will take even the most devoted Pynchon fan a week or two to read, and then more time to reread and ponder. Pynchon is a modernist -- so he may not be for everyone on your list. But for those folks who want to make that extra effort to spend time in an alternative world of humor and wild imagination, he's your best bet.

Tucker Malarkey's Resurrection is a novel perfect for the holidays. This thinking-person's Da Vinci Code has a wonderful heroine who discovers her late father's work with the Nag Hammadi Gospels in post-World War II Egypt.

In his nonfiction account Blood and Thunder, Hampton Sides details the opening of the American West during the mid-19th century. It's a fascinating history filled with mountain men, charismatic Navajo warriors, American presidents and the legendary scout Kit Carson.

On the subject of this great American land: Home Ground: Language for an American Landscape, edited by Barry Lopez and Debra Gwartney, is a feast of definitions of geographical terms by some of America's best writers. It makes a splendid gift for the nature reader, the map lover and anyone who just flat-out loves where we live.

For some comic relief, refer to Max Brooks' World War Z, a zombie novel. The audio-book version of this story, which imagines our world attacked by the living dead, will prove to be a great antidote for long commutes -- if you dare to go on the road.

While Brooks' zombie tale is not one for kids, the Rabbit Ears Treasury of... series most certainly is. It's all your favorite fairy tales, tall tales and fables, told by voices you might recognize: Cher reading "The Ugly Duckling," Glenn Close reading "The Emperor and the Nightingale," Denzel Washington telling the West Indian tale "Anansi" and Nicolas Cage reading "Davy Crockett."

Finally, a fine gift for friends and family who love poetry: American Religious Poems, a Library of America anthology by Harold Bloom. It's 700 pages of great poems on faith and hope and charity and holidays, by many of our greatest poets.

O, illuminated night! I wish you many of them, with plenty of light to read by, through the winter.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Alan Cheuse
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.