Books for Christmas

Well, what else do you think you would get from the bookseller? There are about a million lists of “What books to give for the holidays,” but they are tedious. I am going to tell you what I like to read at this time of year. For what it’s worth, this is what I would give you.

Let me tell you about Michael Chabon’s collection of essays, Manhood for Amateurs. It has a Christmas essay in it. It’s not what you will expect, but everyone I know loves what it says about humanity, and in this cruel season of ice and want we can all use some of that. Bits of this book fill me with such joy that I want to run out of the bookshop and tongue-kiss strangers in the street. Strangers beware:  I am thoughtlessly without breath mints.

I would also like to lavish Kay Ryan on the world. She was our Poet Laureate recently, till W.S. Merwin got the job. And she has a new book, The Best of It: New and Selected Poems. Fans of Mary Oliver will especially like her. I never know how to describe poetry, so I’m just going to type out one of the poems here. It originally appeared in Elephant Rocks and makes me think of the iridescent violet-blue that the moon can make snow, and of Christmas lights, hung purely for the enjoyment of  passers-by.


From the Greek for
woven or plaited,
which quickly translated
to basket. Whence the verb
crib, which meant “to filch”
under cover of wicker
anything—some liquor,
a cutlet.
For we want to make off
with things that are not
our own. There is a pleasure
theft brings, a vitality
to the home.
Cribbed objects or answers
keep their guilty shimmer
forever, have you noticed?
Yet religions downplay this.
Note, for instance, in our
annual rehearsals of innocence,
the substitution of manger for crib—
as if we ever deserved that baby,
or thought we did.


The last book I give you is The Magician\’s Elephant, by Kate Di Camillo. It’s one of those children’s books that isn’t really for children. I mean, it’s certainly appropriate and fairly entertaining for children, but this little fable is perfect for the snow-bound adult, both for its undemanding nature and for the glittering, wintry world it evokes.

Wishing all of you the kindest  and most sparkling winter possible,

Enjoy your books!

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