A Literate London Cabbie's Favorite Books For 2014
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
I met Will Grozier years ago when I climbed into the back of his London cab. We haven't stopped talking about books since. Will is just about the best-read man I know. He'll read what's new, what's old, on the remainder stack and the books that some of his customers leave on the back seat of his taxi - after making a good-faith effort to return first, of course. We like to have Will join us this time of year to tell us about a few books that he just couldn't put down. Will Grozier joins us from our studios in London. Will, thanks so much for being back with us.
WILL GROZIER: Thank you so much, Scott. Praise indeed, sir.
SIMON: Well, you deserve it. Let's start with nonfiction. What's swept you along?
GROZIER: Well, what has swept me along this past six months, perhaps the most important book I've read in a long while, is "Hidden History: The Secret Origins Of The First World War" by a couple of historians called Gerry Docherty and Jim Macgregor. And I will if I may just read you the blurb because this is very punchy. The history of the First World War is a deliberately concocted lie. Not the sacrifice, the heroism, but the truth of how it all began and how it was unnecessarily and deliberately prolonged has been successfully covered up for a century. Now, there's a strap line to grab you.
SIMON: Yes, I know, particularly in the hundredth anniversary of the war.
GROZIER: Yeah. And I had kind of come across this - oh, put that to one side - and once I did look into it, I couldn't put it down because it is dynamite. And it's based primarily - the starting point, the kicking off point is there was a secret cabal of British imperialists and colonialists that wanted to recreate the British Empire. And in 1891, they sat down in a caucus in order to make this happen, they would have to deal with the one emerging power, and that, of course, was Germany. Germany was at that time a rising power, industrialization and evermore world importance. And so the premise of the book is that there was a contrivance from 1891 right through 1914. And it is very, very meticulously documented as to how this was achieved.
SIMON: Let me ask you about the fiction you've been reading now, including one - a series in which a taxi driver...
SIMON: ...Not to my surprise whatsoever, is the hero.
GROZIER: This is a saga of five books produced posthumously by a group of friends of a writer called Gary Reilly, who was a Denver cab driver. And he created an alter ego called Murph, Brendan Murphy. And I was sent these books by one of your listeners some time ago obviously because of the connection. And I have to say that there are many, many instances where I can relate totally to his experiences on the cab. But...
SIMON: Gary Reilly, we should explain, died in 2011, apparently.
GROZIER: He did, yeah. But the character he portrays is essentially a social misfit. He's a bit of a recluse. He cooks a hamburger for his food every day and watches "Gilligan's Island" on the television. So he's a very, very strange character indeed.
SIMON: The premise is that I guess people step into his life when they step into his cab. And he doesn't want to get involved but has to, right?
GROZIER: That's it. I mean, he's abiding maximum life, as it should be with all cabdrivers. I mean, come on. It's please don't get involved with your customers because it can only end in tears. (Laughter).
SIMON: Excuse me.
GROZIER: Present company excepted, of course.
SIMON: All right, all right, OK, yeah.
GROZIER: But he constantly breaks his own maxim. It's huge fun.
SIMON: What about - any books you'd recommend for...
GROZIER: Well, I'm going to recommend...
SIMON: Oh OK...
GROZIER: I'm going to recommend...
SIMON: Yes, go ahead.
GROZIER: I'm going to dip down here to my bag and recommend 50.
SIMON: 50 books, all right.
GROZIER: 50 books.
SIMON: Well, I'll strap myself in. This could take a while.
GROZIER: This is a fabulous title for this time of year. It's called "The Year Of Reading Dangerously." It's by a journalist called Andy Miller. And Andy was a guy working in London who had a young family and a daily commute from the South Coast when he suddenly realized that in the period of three years, he'd only read one book of fiction. So he sent himself the task of collating a list of books which would take him a year to read, hence 50 books. It's a wonderfully constructive list of very quirky and idiosyncratic books that nonetheless you can hang onto each title, the label of great book. And if we just...
SIMON: Yeah, please tell us a few if you can.
GROZIER: Well, I just wanted to read you out...
GROZIER: ...The first five on the list. "The Master Of Margarita," Mikhail Bulgakov, "Middlemarch" George Eliot...
SIMON: Yes, that one I've read.
GROZIER: "Post Office," Charles Bukowski, "The Communist Manifesto," Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels...
SIMON: It's been a while, but yeah.
GROZIER: (Laughter). And "The Ragged Trousered Philanthropist" by Robert Tressell. So all the stuff that probably does actually come in that category of the stuff that you sometime in your life believe you should have read or maybe you just were able to convince yourself you actually had. If it's anything at all, it's a template by which we can all sit down and set ourselves the challenge. What are we going to read this year?
SIMON: Will Grozier, who drives a cab in London between books, always a delight to talk to you, Will. Thanks so much and happy holidays, my friend.
GROZIER: Happy holidays to you and everybody, especially the cabbies out there. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.