Whether or not you celebrate holidays of any sort during December, it does still seem to be the perfect month for curling up with a book and encouraging others to do the same. I asked some colleagues what books were on their giving and receiving wish lists this month. Titles range from those which might appeal to friends with “generally bleak visions of the future” (thank you, John) to works which promote coziness, laughter, family time, and salivation. Thanks to all for participating. –JLH
The Night Counter by Alia Yunis, is probably one the first books on my gift list this year. The hilariously ironic problems of an Arab American family would make a great light read over the break. For my eldest, who has become addicted to James Dashner’s Maze Runner Series, I will be getting The Eye of Minds, the first book in the Morality Doctrine Series. My 7-year-old, on the other hand, is still into books that we can snuggle up with and read together, so I am thinking of one my favorite childhood books, Shel Silverstein’s Where the Sidewalk Ends. That way, I get snuggles and laughs at the same time. For myself, I have been dying to get my hands on Delights From the Garden of Eden by Nawal Nasarallah, which traces the history of Iraqi cuisine going all the way back to the Sumerians.
A few books I’m hoping to receive (or maybe give so I can borrow): 1) Mark Strand, Collected Poems: Strand is mostly known for his poem “Keeping Things Whole,” which reads in part, “In a field/I am the absence/of field./This is/always the case./Wherever I am/I am what is missing.” He has a talent for taking words that seem very ordinary and putting them together in ways that illuminate, puzzle, or sometimes unsettle. 2) Elena Ferrante, My Brilliant Friend. During a 25th anniversary Writers and Company panel discussion, Eleanor Wachtel asked panelists what they were currently reading, and both Zadie Smith and Aleksandar Hemon enthused about being immersed in Ferrante’s Neapolitan series. I read the first paragraph of the first novel in a bookstore and promptly added it to my wish list. 3) Sydney Padua, The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage. Geek heaven! The way-too-smart, far-too-funny steampunk webcomic featuring tech pioneers Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage is finally published in a collection.
I am looking forward to reading along with my son on the last three Harry Potter books, which I never read the first time around. It is fun to be joining my kids in Generation Potter 2.0. I am also doing a research project on memoirs of disability and academic life — and the fun part of the research is actually reading the books as opposed to the work of writing about them. So I am looking forward to reading Still Alice. Finally there is a new biography of the disabled musician Vic Chesnutt called Don’t Suck, Don’t Die. Sounds like a self-help book. But this will be my own pleasure reading.
I am treating myself to The Year of Living Danishly: Uncovering the Secrets of the World’s Happiest Country. I would like to spend the holiday Danishly happy, wrapped in hygga (Danish for coziness). The children always get a few silly picture books, and this year The Bureau of Misplaced Dads is at the top of the list. They are also getting the not-silly Shackleton’s Journey, based on The Guardian‘s assertion that it is “A book every house should have.”
I will be buying for myself and others: Jenny Lawson, Furiously Happy: A funny book about terrible things. I know Jenny personally, having served in the mommy blog trenches with her in the mid-2000s where we shared martinis and were shushed by security guards in San Francisco’s finer hotels. Her first book, Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, spent an eternity on the New York Times best seller list and it is both raw and hilarious by turns, as I expect this new book will be.
In my “Christmas cart” are the following books for the adults in the house: Stoner by John Williams, The Visiting Privilege by Joy Williams, Gold Fame Citrus by Claire Watkins, Slade House by David Mitchell, Songs of a Dead Dreamer and Grimscribe by Thomas Ligotti, and The Witches: Salem 1692 by Stacey Schiff. For the younger crowd, there are two volumes of classic Donald Duck Comics by Carl Barks, and DC: The New Frontier (Deluxe Edition) by Darwyn Cooke. In the meantime, I’ve been reading a lot of Mark Twain to my younger son: Huckleberry Finn, Tom Sawyer, and Tom Sawyer: Detective. About Tom Sawyer Abroad, sort of a parody of Jules Verne, my son exclaimed “Best book ever!” That remark does not jibe with the critical consensus. Now at bedtime we are reading Pudd’n Head Wilson, a novel about racism in the pre-Civil War South. It’s neither particularly funny nor written for children. But he loves it nevertheless. So I would conclude that either he has no discernment or, as I think more likely, there are pretty good reasons why many consider Twain the greatest of all American writers.
A book I return to again and again, as a gift for friends, family, and lovers, is Monique Truong’s The Book of Salt. It’s set in turn-of-the-century Paris, has lots of beautiful descriptions of food, and is about a queer diasporic Vietnamese cook who works for Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas.
I finally read William Gibson’s latest, The Peripheral and it’s definitely on my gift-giving list this year (it would be a good gift for people interested in time travel, video games, or generally bleak visions of the future). On my own wish list is Sarah Blake’s book of poetry Mr. West. She published a serialized poem, The Starship online this fall, and I’d like to read more.
Happy reading to all!