Holidays, by the books

Wednesday 2nd December, 2020

I think I speak for most people when I say the upcoming holiday season will be a quiet one - figuratively, of course. Mariah Carey will still blast out of every stereo in our house, and I assume your local shopping center will have the same spirit.

But, in general, homes will be quiet. The little nieces and nephews won't be dashing around from morning till dusk; your uncle with the eyepatch won't be telling any surreal stories of his "experiences" back in the 70s; and there won't be any intense dinner table discussions about politics, careers, or about how much of a disappointment every son and daughter simultaneously manages to be.

While many may see this as a disappointment - a disgrace to holiday traditions on all accounts - the rational thinker in me says why not see this as an opportunity? To catch up on some reading, perhaps…

Thinking about this, I'm reminded of the books gifted to me over the years, and thought they might serve others as well. So I've compiled an abridged list, a bit like a series of museum artifacts, that tell the story of my literary life, and in doing so I hope to maybe inspire your holiday shopping. Maybe you'll even add a few of these to your wish-list.

Once Upon a Time...

Once upon a time I was short, chubby, and too weak to open a car door. I could sound out words, scanning my finger along the page even though there was never more than ten words on a single page. I might've been between three and five years old. Safe to say the pictures were more important to the story in those days. 

Like other kids, I had a complete and proud Eric Carle collection: The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?, The Grouchy Ladybug, The Mixed-up Chameleon, and The Tiny Seed. In hindsight, I think I was the only one proud of these books. But they lasted as the most memorable of the early years.

Where the Wild Things Are, was another great read. The wanderlust the book inspires certainly stuck with my brother. It might've been among the reasons he bought his first hiking shoes. 

Then there's of course Goodnight Moon, whose rhyme I can still recite pieces of, although I have not seen a copy in years.

I can still hear my mom reading lines from If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. I remember the hunger it sparked in me-a literal hunger-for cookies, pasta, and every other colorful item seen in the background of its pages.

And on the poetic side, Shel Silverstein and Dr. Seuss were quintessential. A duo simultaneously distinct and inseparable. The Giving Tree, Where the Sidewalk Ends, The Cat in the Hat, Green Eggs and Ham…the list is endless.

The Fantasy Years

When I was at last old enough to put my imagination into words-old enough to create coherent thoughts about magical worlds, talking animals, and eccentric wizards-my reading habits changed simultaneously.  

When I was six, I encountered a book about talking rodents from a forested abbey made of red bricks. Redwall was the most formative book I've read. My mother read it to me, as the prose were a bit too dense…but by the end of the twenty-one book long series, I could read three to four chapters on my own in a single night. A copy of Redwall will always rest on my desk.

Then there were the Tolkein epics. Dense for many young readers, but perfect for the curious and dedicated few. The Fellowship of the Ring was my transition from elementary school into middle school. Eleven years old to twelve years old, for those unfamiliar with the American school system.

And The Lord of the Rings was not the only massive epic. Eragon and the Inheritance Cycle was a favorite series of mine, namely for the thunderous thud each book made when dropped. I think each of those novels were the heaviest items I'd ever owned.

Admittedly, I only read a chapter of Harry Potter, but I had already seen the movies…so, you know…I was bored.

The Percy Jackson tales were marvelous, and the only reason I could ever keep up in the antiquities section of my European History course.

These were my most industrious reading years. When I grew tired of novels I turned to graphic novels like Bone, Maus, and even spent time-well into my teens-with a large collection of Calvin & Hobbes anthologies (the literary person's funny pages, some say). There are so many more books too, by likes of Terry Pratchett, Samuel R. Delaney, and Brandon Sanderson, that this list could stretch on forever. So before that happens, I suppose it's best we move on.

Developing a refined taste…

I've broken up this blog into three sections, like most good stories (save Shakespearean tragedies). A beginning, middle, and end. But, admittedly, I feel a bit rude calling this section the end, considering I'm only twenty-two. A solution to this, I suppose, is to do what I do with any great book: believe that story carries on outside the confines of the front and back cover. I believe the hungry mouse from If You Give a Mouse a Cookie lived on, and continued to eat many cookies in their life, even after I closed that book for the last time (they're certainly dead by now, of course; mice only live one to three years).

Anyway…the books!

Cormac McCarthy became my spirit author (if such things exist). I read No Country for Old Men, The Road, Blood Meridian, The Crossing, All the Pretty Horses, Cities of the Plain, in that order. Excellent reads, every one, for the reader obsessed with the American southwest, wild lands, and horses. Especially if they like horses.

In a similar vein, Yuri Herrera's Signs Preceding the End of the World is another great novel about the southwest, although Herrera refrains from referencing the US or Mexico in this novel. A Mexican novel translated into English, it's a speculative, fantastical, and dark exploration of a land divided.

For those who think they've read it all, I recommend The Lost Children Archive, by Valeria Luiselli. The novel blends fiction, reality, and historical artifacts in way that often makes you forget what you're reading. Few things make me cry. This novel did.

If you're disappointed by the lack of romance novels so far, well, it ain't my taste. I don't judge though. There isn't anything wrong with indulging in novels about indulgence. That said, a friend of mine highly recommends the That Boy series for those with lustful reading habits.

And finally, these are the books I would not recommend for your holiday gifting.

Religious books: kids hate them, and adults will buy them on their own.

Edgar Allan Poe Anthology: he has five good poems and fewer good stories. 

The Odyssey: according to some, it's the worst book ever, apparently. Google it.

Coffee table books: why do they exist? No one knows. Please don't buy anymore until we figure this out.

And finally, finally, I understand books may sound like an uneventful gift. They are often small, and they don't bring about excitement upon unwrapping, but their value lasts a lifetime. They also create little waste, as when you finish reading it, you store it on a bookshelf until you pick it up again, or until you pass it off to someone else so that it's knowledge and entertainment may spread to someone else. Yes, I think books are a good gift. A great gift, in fact.

(But if you're worried about your gift's receptance, consider slipping a twenty dollar bill and a receipt behind  the cover, just in case) 

It's free
always has been, always will be

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