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Week 1 Recap: Authors’ favorite book gifts

December 8, 2011

Every day in December, we’ll have a different author visiting our Facebook page to answer the question “What is the best book you’ve ever received as a gift for Christmas or Hanukkah?”  Here’s a recap of the great stories our first seven authors have shared over the past week.

Day 1: James Patterson, author of Kill Alex Cross and The Christmas Wedding
My parents gave me books as gifts a lot—and for Christmas my freshman year of college, they gave me James Joyce’s Ulysses. I loved that book. It made me realize, okay, why haven’t I been diving into books like these all along? Reading that masterpiece made me want to become a storyteller.

Day 2: Mary Kay Andrews, author of The Fixer Upper and Blue Christmas
In a family with five children born within seven years, money was always tight, especially at Christmas. We were a family of readers, but most of our books came as hand-me-downs or from the Bookmobile that parked at our A&P every month. One year, a few weeks before Christmas, when I was six or seven years old, I was snooping around and found a wrapped gift with my name on it. Unable to resist the temptation, I carefully peeled away the tape and found an illustrated copy of Swiss Family Robinson. Hiding in my mother’s ironing cupboard, I read the book cover to cover, then re-wrapped the gift and returned it to where I’d found it. On Christmas morning, I had no problem acting excited about the gift. It might not have been the first book that belonged just to me, but it’s the first one I remember. I adored that book, and read it until it was in tatters. These days, I always hope to find a book under our tree. Usually, I manage to resist the temptation to sneak a pre-Christmas peek.

Day 3: Gina Barreca, author of It’s Not That I’m Bitter, editor of Make Mine a Double
I was ten years old in 1967 and my older brother Hugo gave me the best combination of gifts: A hardback book version of the television special A Charlie Brown Christmas and a copy of the Royal Guardman’s holiday 45-record “Snoopy’s Christmas.” We didn’t use the word “multi-media” back then, but I treasured both and learned that the right books-as-gifts could make your heart stand still.

Day 4: Mira Bartok, author of The Memory Palace
 One of the best holiday books I ever got was a Caldecott Honor book for children (and child-like adults like myself) called TIBET: THROUGH THE RED BOX by Czech author/illustrator Peter Sis. It was 1998 and not long after my husband gave me the book, I went to see Peter Sis at a book signing in Chicago. Finally, after waiting over a half an hour in line, I was so nervous I said, “I love you so much I keep you in my bed at night…I mean, by my bed…I mean…your book, not you!” I was mortified & embarrassed (and both of us turned beet red) but I was still so thrilled to own this stunningly beautiful and magical book about Sis’s father’s adventures in Tibet in the 1950s. I still keep it on my nightstand!

Day 5: Iris Krasnow, author of The Secret Lives of Wives and I Am My Mother’s Daughter
I always come back to one book as my very favorite: Viktor E. Frankl’s Man’s Search For Meaning. My mother was a Polish-born Holocaust survivor and I grew up painfully aware of the eggshell-thin line separating life and death. Frankl’s own story of tenacity and survival in a concentration camp never fails to inspire me with its timeless message of the power of love and hope to see his family again. All my books are about nurturing family relationships; growing up with my mom I knew from early on that those we love most could be snatched from us in a finger-snap. Reading Frankl, we realize the fragility of our lives and how we need to cherish who we have while we have them within reach.

Day 6: Marie Myung-Ok Lee, author of Somebody’s Daughter
I decided I was going to be a writer at age nine. My parents, Korean immigrants, always gave me books for Christmas, but being what would be known as “tiger parents” today, they gave me pop-up anatomy books, biographies of the Mayo brothers, biology books, etc.—things to ready me for a life in medicine. So in terms of books, I have to say the most memorable book I received for Christmas was from my sixth grade teacher, who seemed to enjoy my little writing projects. He gave me a lovely poetry anthology, Reflections on a Gift of Watermelon Pickle—and even better, there was an inscription inside saying that he fully expected to see my name on a book someday. Well, it has happened, multiple times, and I hope he somehow knows (or maybe he’s even reading this, hello, Mr. Sauter!) how amazing that present was to me many years later.

Day 7: Jeff Pearlman, author of Sweetness:The Enigmatic Life of Walter Payton
Back when I was a kid, growing up on the mean, gang-infested streets of Mahopac, N.Y., my goal wasn’t to become an athlete or an actor or a singer. No, I wanted to write. The man who inspired such an ambition was my father, Stanley Herz, who—along with having his own executive recruiting firm—penned a regular business column for the local Gannett newspaper. Well, in the mid-1980s Dad decided to write a book, offering job-seeking advice and the like. He published the thing himself, coming up with a company (Kimberly Press) and a marketing plan. “Conquering the Corporate Career” was released in the winter of 1986 (print run: 1,000), and my autographed copy (TO JEFF, LOVE DAD) remains the greatest Chanukah gift I’ve ever received. It wasn’t merely a father handing something to his son. It was proof that, if you set your mind to a task, it can be accomplished. Plus, it was one helluva book …

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Next > Read the Week 2 Recap.

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