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Alan Cheuse's 2004 Holiday Book Picks

From the cover of <I>Orient Express</I> by Graham Greene.
From the cover of Orient Express by Graham Greene.

With the holiday rush approaching, reviewer Alan Cheuse offers his annual recommendations for gift-giving. This year's list includes novels of travel on Earth and in space, new versions of tales from the Bible, Africa and Mesopotamia, and collections of poetry and song.

Auggie Wren's Christmas Story, by Paul Auster (Henry Holt and Co.): "A beautifully illustrated little tale about being commissioned by the New York Times in December of 1990 to write a Christmas story, and the mystery and surprising pleasure this brought him."

Florence of Arabia, by Christopher Buckley: (Random House). "A provocative and entertaining satirical novel on Middle East politics."

Orient Express, by Graham Greene, with introduction by Christopher Hitchens (Penguin Classics) : "One of a number of strikingly designed reissues of the novels of Graham Greene, books that turn the menace and spiritual disruptions of modern life into wonderfully engaging stories."

To the Stars, by L. Ron Hubbard (Galaxy Press): "Before he began founding new religions, Hubbard was one of the country's most prolific pulp science fiction writers, and this book is one of his best." Chick Corea's CD of the same name features a musical score suggested to him by Hubbard's novel.

The Boy Who Would Live Forever, by Frederik Pohl (Tor Books): "Pohl, a true master of the [science-fiction] genre, is 85 years old and writing at the top of his powers."

The Girl Who Married a Lion, by Alexander McCall Smith (Pantheon): "Stories out of African folklore to enlarge [children's] sense of wonder," retold by the author, who grew up in Botswana and Zimbabwe.

The Future of Ice, by Gretel Ehrlich (Pantheon): "Lyrical essays about [the author's] encounters with winter — glorious glaciers, icebergs, ice — in various places around the globe."

The Five Books of Moses, translated by Robert Alter (W. W. Norton): "A striking new translation" of the biblical work.

Gilgamesh, translated by Stephen Mitchell (Free Press): "Out of a time a 1,000 years before the Bible, one of the greatest epic poems ever created... the Mesopotamian epic, though only discovered in the mid-19th century, buried in sand, written in cuneiform characters on thousands of clay bricks."

Danger on Peaks, poems by Gary Snyder (Shoemaker & Hoard).

An Invitation to Poetry, from the Favorite Poem Project (W. W. Norton):"Edited by Robert Pinsky and Maggie Dietz, complete with DVD of some powerful readings by ordinary citizens."

The Rose & The Briar, edited by by Sean Wilentz and Greil Marcus (W. W. Norton): "A collection of essays and stories on the American story-telling tradition and the ballad. Insightful prose by many hands, including Joyce Carol Oates, Stanley Crouch and poet Paul Muldoon, about music by Duke Ellington, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, and Buddy Bolden." This collection can also be paired with a CD by the same name that includes songs featured in the book.

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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.