When I was young my mother always kept an “I’m Interested In” list of books in a notebook she kept in her purse. In December we would sneak in and jot down a few books to give her as presents. For my Grandmother, a writer who loved death, we would go down to the bookstore and ask if anyone had killed someone interesting that year – this was way before True Crime had a section all to itself. My brother and I always got a least one book for a present and part of the day was spent curled up on the couch reading our newest gems. My mother had a genius for picking just the right book at just the right time.
I too love giving books as gifts. Himself got to two of The Years Best Science Fiction collections from Santa – this year’s and then the one from three years ago which Santa had lost in his sleigh and forgot to give him. My favorite Christmas book I have ever given was in December of 1997. I walked into the Children’s Corner Bookstore (alas – it is no more) picked out what I needed for nieces and nephews and I had one more person on my list, a twelve year old boy I had a soft spot in my heart for. I asked someone in the store for their recommendations and said, “This is a boy who feels like he doesn’t fit in his family”. She replied, “there is this new book from England, no one in the states has really heard about it but I think it is going to be big and it is perfect for this boy.” I walked out of the store with a copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and she was right – it was perfect for that child.
This year himself looked at my To Be read list and then pointed out I had very eclectic tastes. He managed to wade through the list and did a really good job; so today what has caught my interest is what was underneath my Christmas Tree Saturday morning.
Bound To Last: 30 Writers on Their Most Cherished Book Edited by Sean Manning: Rabhih Almeddine, Anthony Doerr, Julia Glass, Joyce Maynard, among others have all written never-before-published essays about a printed book they hold most dear not only for the words written inside or the story told, but also the circumstances of the book; circumstances including where, when, or by whom or how they acquired it. I have just read Ray Bradbury’s forward and know I am in for a treat. Here is Bradbury talking about reading Edgar Allan Poe for the first time, a book provide to him by his beloved Aunt Neva:
I lugged it over to the table and opened up that huge book and looked at the stories. By pure accident I turned to the page with “The Cask of Amontillado.” I plunged in and got drunk immediately. I was nine years old and had never read anything like it: I fell in love completely with Edgar Allan Poe. (pg. x)
The Palisades: A Novel by Tom Schabarum: Regardless of what I finally end up thinking of this book, I will always have a soft spot about it. It was the very first book that “caught my interest” when I first discovered book blogs. Not to mention it is set in one of my favorite areas of the country, the Big Sur coast of California. Nicholas, in his first meaningful relationship, feels he must investigate his past in order to be open to his future. The novel is about the ripple effects of loss and the healing nature of place.
In Big Sur there is a cottage that sits at the edge of a palisade. It is the last refuge before the high mountains that rise up like sentries to the rest of the country. When the air is clear you can see the coast run its length to the horizon, but when the fog rolls in it is masked and hidden as if a magician had waved his hand over the earth to erase it. (p. 7)
Hiroshima in the Morning by Rahna Reiko Rizzuto: In 2001 Rizzouto goes to Hiroshima to interview survivors of the atomic bomb. This memior contains those interviews along with the parallel story of Rahna as she deals with the aftermath of 9/11 as well as her troubled marriage. I haven’t read much memoir this year and this seemed to be a good way to get back into the genre. I like what the back blurb says, “…Rizzuto’s personal awakening show memory not as history, but as a story we tell ourselves to explain who we are. My family has always used story to explain things so I am looking forward to seeing how Rizzuto explores this theme.
I can tell you the story but it won’t be true.
It won’t be the facts as they happened exactly, each day, each footstep, each breath. Time elides, events shift; sometimes we shift them on purpose and forget that we did. Memory is just how we choose to remember.
We choose. (pg. 11)
Purge by Sofi Oksanen: A book about two women, Aliide, an older woman who has lived through the Soviet occupation of Estonia and Zara, her great-niece who has been subjected to the sex trade by the Russian Mafia. Together these two women explore the past, the history that binds them together, the effect of shame, and what it takes to survive. A complicate book with a disturbing subject, Purge is an award winner and the author is one to watch in the years to come.
The mound was lying in the same spot under the birch tree. Aliide moved closer, keeping her eye on the mound but also keeping an eye out for any others. It was a girl. Muddy, ragged, and bedraggled, but a girl nevertheless. A completely unknown girl. A flesh-and-blood person, not some omen of the future sent from heaven. Her red-lacquered fingernails were in shreds. Her eye make-up had run down her cheeks and her curls were half straightened; there were little blobs of hairspray in them, and a few silver willow leaves stuck to them. Her hair was bleached until it was coarse, and had greasy, dark roots. (pg. 8)
The Magician’s Book: A Skeptic’s Adventures in Narnia by Laura Miller: Eva from A Striped Armchair recently raved about this book and I loved the quotes she included in her review and in other mentions she made of this work. I still remember my mother coming home from a trip and handing me a boxed set of C.S. Lewis Narnia Series. I started reading it that day and I don’t think I stopped until I was done. I re-read that set over and over throughout the years and even read from them to my own children. My youngest, a re-reader himself, finally wore out my original set and I had to purchase a new one which still sits upstairs. Miller captures this perfectly saying:
It was this book that made a reader out of me. It showed me how I could tumble through a hole in the world I knew and into another, better one, a world fresher, more brightly colored, more exhilarating, more fully felt than my own. This revelation really did make a new person out of me. I reread The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and its six sequels countless times. I became one of those children who haunt libraries, checking out the maximum number of titles every week, scouring the shelves for signs that this one or that one would spirit me away to a place almost as marvelous as Narnia.
Finally, I received Winter Morning Walks: One Hundred Postcards to Jim Harrison by Ted Kooser: In the autumn of 1998, Kooser was recovering from cancer surgery and treatment. Unable to be in the sun, he took long walks in the countryside before dawn and wrote a series of poetical postcards to a friend. This collection contains 100 of those cards, small poems about nature, connection, and life with all its daily trails and triumphs. My favorite form of poetry is haiku and Kooser is described as “a realist, a nearly haiku-like imagist”. If the first poem which serves as a dedication is any indication, I am in for a treat.
The quarry road tumbles toward me
out of the early morning darkness,
lustrous with frost, an unrolled bolt
of softly glowing fabric, interwoven
with tiny glass beads on silver thread,
the cloth smoothed by my father’s hand
as he stands behind his wooden counter
(dark as these fields) at Tilden’s Store
so many years ago. “Here,” he says smiling,
“you can make something special with this.”