I wish I could lean into my own brand and declare that even when I was a child, all I ever wanted for Christmas was books, but that would be a lie.
Part of it was that as the child of a bookstore owner, books could arrive at any old time of the year. But also, Christmas was for, you know…toys. I have very specific memories of the great “Micronauts” Christmas in which we were showered with the hot toy of the season, a kind of quasi-Transformers array of action figures and accessories where you could mix and match components.
Another year we begged for Pong and got an Odyssey, which was basically the same thing.
Though, Odyssey was better than Pong because it also had “Tennis,” which was Pong using the love, 15, 30, 40 score system. Innovation!
It’s sort of hard to believe what kind of junk seemed really important at the time. Of course we kept none of it, though we should have because I’m now old enough that the disposable crap from my youth has morphed into valuable collectibles. I was recently in an “antique” (junk) shop in Sylva, NC and saw a game my brother and I spent hours playing on sale.
The “real basketball” was actually a ping pong ball that you flung towards the baskets using spring-loaded levers. Apparently it dates from 1939 and was still in production as of 2011.
I don’t know why we didn’t have the foresight to put all off our old crap into storage until it was worth something, or at least so we could break it out for a little nostalgic fun on the holidays. Speaking of which, anyone got a line on a vintage Gnip Gnop?
As great as toys are, books were for sure always a part of the gift pile, a new Asterix the Gaul or Tintin volume was common. I remember a year where some Chicago Bears pajamas were paired with a biography for kids of my favorite player, Walter Payton.
In honor of those Christmas books, my column this week is about the most memorable book I received for Christmas, one I’ve kept for near 50 years. I’m wondering if anyone else out there has their own copy.
Mother Biblioracle has often given me books as gifts over the years, but I’ve become a tough target and I think people are maybe afraid to try to buy books for me.
I can say the same about Mother Biblioracle. I planned on giving her a copy of Amor Towles The Lincoln Highway for Christmas, but my local indie was already sold out. When I arrived at her home, she already had a copy on her coffee table.
Saved myself a return.
Because books are obviously great gifts, I do buy a book for everyone in my family, doing my best to deliver a custom experience. I may get more pleasure out of perusing the store shelves than they do out of reading the actual books.
I hope others have had similar fun this season.
Most have probably heard of Joan Didion’s passing earlier this week. If you’re looking for insightful perspective on and analysis of her work, I recommend “What Keeps Us Coming Back to Joan Didion” by Laura Miller and “Didion’s Prophetic Eye on America” by Michiko Kakutani, former chief critic at the New York Times. And for those looking for an entry point into Didion’s work, here’s a guide for her books.
Best selling debut novels aren’t extinct, but they are rare (and majestic), so perhaps this is why the Times is saying that “Best Selling Debut Novels are the Bald Eagles of the Book World.” I think the upshot is that all best selling books are word-of-mouth successes. The key is to put the book in enough mouths initially for the word to spread. This also requires a compelling book.
At his indispensable Largehearted Boy blog, David Gutowski has compiled every best of book list you can imagine. There’s over 100 of them.
At LitHub you can check out a round-up of the best television and movies adapted from books this year. I’m waiting for a good chance to hunker down and binge the Station Eleven adaptation now airing on HBO Max myself.
Also at LitHub you can check out what they think are the ten biggest literary stories of the year. I had some fun trying to guess what might be on the list before clicking. I got six, which I thought was pretty good.
Mrs. Bridge by Evan S. Connell is one of the greatest American novels of the last 100 years if you asked me (and lots of other folks). At Harper’s Gemma Sieff considers a literary biography of Connell, Literary Alchemist: The Writing Life of Evan S. Connell, as well as her own encounters with the man.
Anticipated books season continues with Tor.com’s list of the “Most Anticipated SFF of 2022.”
As of Christmas Day when I’m writing this, affiliate income is at $296.75 cents for the year with more than enough pending credits to put us over the initial goal of $300 for the year, which means with my matching donation, Open Books will be receiving at least $600.
Well done us! Let’s keep piling it on.
If you’d like to see every book I’ve recommended in this space this year, check out my list of 2021 Recommendations at the Bookshop.org bookshop.
Recommendations are always open. Some will even be featured in the print edition of the Chicago Tribune.
1. The Lost Girls by Jessica Chiarella
2. The Lake on Fire by Rosellen Brown
3. The Rose Code by Kate Quinn
4. When the Stars Go Dark by Paula McLain
5. A Long Petal of the Sea by Isabel Allende
Marilyn D. - Northbrook, IL
This is a special request from Marilyn’s son Abram in honor of his birthday (Dec. 27th) because, as he told me, “she did the birthing.” I think Marilyn could use a fun, page turning mystery with just enough tongue in its cheek, The Writing Class by Jincy Willett.
1. Go Tell the Bees That I Have Gone by Diana Gabaldon
2. The Galaxy and the Ground Within by Becky Chambers
3. The Cape Doctor by E.J. Levy
4. How to Find Your Way in the Dark by Derek B. Miller
5. Olympus, Texas by Stacey Swann
Fran F. - Winnetka, IL
I have never had someone tell me that my recommending Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles was a bad call, and I don’t think that streak is going to be broken with Fran.
Alright folks, I can smell Christmas dinner in the next room, so that’s a wrap on 2021 because I’m taking next week off from the newsletter so that I may spend more quality time with the most important people in my life.
Happy New Year! and I’ll be seeing you in 2022.