I'm at least partially responsible for keeping the Strand Bookstore in business this year. I took three strolls around the joint and took care of most of my holiday shopping. Some of the more meaningful gifts I unearthed turned out to be the thriftiest, plucked right out of Lady Luck's hands from the outdoor dollar racks. This cold weather we've had has kept some great titles lingering on those shelves!
Here, a list of books received, and given.
The Reliable Wife, by Robert Goolrick. Maybe I'm the last person on earth to read this, as the book jacket wears a "#1 New York Times' Bestseller List" flag at the top. Just finished it after a middle of the night sprint, and enjoyed it. Turn of the last-century mystery. Page turner.
Marie Antoinette, by Antonia Fraser. I've ducked into the author's prelude, and already appreciate Ms. Fraser's studied examination of a biographer's role.... in this case, she makes every effort to create this historical epic tale without offering allusions throughout to our heroine's terrible ending. Oh, and she didn't say "Let Them Eat Cake", after all!
By Nightfall, by Michael Cunningham. Looking forward to this; I've only heard amazing things about Mr. Cunningham. I've not read The Hours, so will be moving backwards through his catalog if this goes over. The Hours, in particular, always sounded like it would be a dark read, but that didn't stop me from loving Tess of the D'Urbervilles or for that matter, Anna K.
Room, by Emma Donaghue. I've been dying to read this, and it's next up on my list. I don't know very much about it, but think it might freak me out since the protagonist is a five year old boy who, I understand, is raised in a closet. Still, the reviews are amazing, and this was one of those "Hey, Jim, I bought this book and you can give it to me for Christmas" titles.
The Book of Salt, by Monique Truong. Novel set in Paris, in the 1930s! Given by my brother and sister in law avec Salt, the cookbook (cute theme, no?).
Books I Gave:
Uncle Steve: Just Kids, by Patti Smith. Beautiful and poetic. I've wanted to underline sentence after sentence. Also, The Book of Imaginary Beings, an encyclopedia style book about various creatures that appear in Middle Eastern mysticism, by Jorge Luis Borges. Steve knows more about mysticism than anyone I've ever met, and I was excited to discover this.
Daniel, age 14. The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar, and other stories, Roald Dahl. Daniel is frighteningly smart and sarcastic. Hello, Mr. Dahl Junior.
Claire, 16. Breakfast at Tiffany's. Oops, gave my 16 year old niece a book about a prostitute. Oh well. At least it wasn't about a grisly murder, ahem, In Cold Blood.
Davis, age, 11. A Game of Thrones, by George Martin. Some adorable nerd working the bag check in the comic shop Forbidden Planet told me this would be an excellent choice for a brilliant little guy who probably finished the entire Harry Potter series when he was like 8. It's being turned into the next saucy HBO series, to boot. Again, perhaps I overreached with the age, but people used to do that with me and I turned out alright.
Scott, age 19. Dreamland, by Kevin Smith. Historical fiction about old Coney Island. Scott's going to school across the river at Seton Hall, studying International Relations. I hoped a book centered in the five boroughs would be an incentive for him to come on over and explore more often.
Rebecca, age 20. Are You Somebody? Accidental Memoir by a Dubliner. by Nuala O'Faolain. One of the most beautiful coming of age autobiographies I've ever read. Rebecca goes to school at St. Andrew's in Scotland. She's already soaked up much of Europe in her two years over there, so I thought she would enjoy a beautiful life story to fill in some of the holes that more touristy travel tends to reveal.
Matt, age 19: The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby, by Tom Wolfe . Car culture essays published in Esquire in the 1960s! Matt's going to college in the middle of Pennsylvania in the small city, Altuna. He's a big hearted, rap-listening, hard-working kind of dude who likes to have a good time, and I thought he would enjoy reading some of the first "Laddie" lit.
Nick, age 14: What is the What? The Autobiography of Valentino Achak Deng, by Dave Eggers. Nick is already a competing rock climber on the international circuit. I thought he would enjoy Mr. Eggers' fictional memoir of one of the Lost Boys of Sudan. I've not read it yet, but have it sitting in one of my many piles.
Elizabeth, age 16: The Lives of the Muses: Nine Women and the Artists they Inspired, by Francine Prose. Elizabeth is such a lovely girl. She can be quiet, but there's something stirring about her, and I suspect behind the scenes she's inspired her own share of burgeoning teenage boys.
Jim, my sweetie: new copy of Patricia Wells' Simply French cookbook-- one that isn't being held together by rubberbands. Also, the new Mark Twain autobiography (a real door-stopper, at that). A sweet Bird Encyclopedia that he already likes to read before falling asleep (one of the beautiful disconnects about him that I love; his rural reading in his urban environment-- when we first met, he had a pamphlet about raising chickens that he used to read, and I thought "this is the guy for me", despite the fact that I've not ever raised chickens). The Food of a Younger Land, by Mark Kurlansky. A look at how food was studied and catalogued by the Works Progress Administration- I'm looking forward to borrowing this one.
My mom: An American Wife, by Curt Sittenfeld. This, to me, looked like a guilty pleasure that's only thinly veiled fictional account about Laura Bush and her conflicted White House years. Puritans, volume 2, to inspire a beautiful work in progress.... Water for Elephants, by Sara Gruen. Anything about circus folks intrigues me; throw them back a few plus decades and I'm hooked. A hard-worn biography of Elizabeth the Great that looked interesting.
Mother in law: The Museum of Innocence, by Nobel-Prize winner Orhan Pamuk. This epic love story set in the Middle East looked like something she could really tuck into over a long winter.
Jamie: Jungle Book popup book; Cricket at Times Square, Sea Monsters...
It seems that I got carried away, but I'm a careful shopper and did pretty well at the Strand. In the past, when the kids were younger, I got them toys or cute clothing, but from now on I think I'm going to follow in the footsteps of those people who loved me and supported my reading and writing when I was growing up.
Did you buy books this season?