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Week 4 Recap: Authors’ favorite book gifts

January 2, 2012

Every day in December, we were honored to 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 from the final week. 

Read previous recaps: Week 1, Week 2, Week 3

Day 23:  Alexis Moniello, illustrator, “Everything Butt Art” series
I’ve always loved to read and always hoped to be a professional doodler, so its only natural that my favorite books tend to be fantastic and illustrative. The words turn to pictures as soon as they hit my brain. A few Christmases ago, my brother, remembering my obsession with Wicked and children’s tales, gave me every book written by Gregory Maguire. The first of the pile I read was Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister, classic Cinderella told from the point of view of her very artistic stepsister, Iris. Its about beauty, both physical and intangible, and paints a picture as exquisite as the one Luykas Schoonmaker paints of the beautiful, yet helpless, Clara. (Thanks, Anthony!)

Day 26: Chad Peeling, contributor to Cane Toads and Other Rogue Species
A couple of years ago, someone gave me YOUR INNER FISH: A Journey Into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body by Neil Shubin. As someone who spends much of his time explaining the origins of life, this insightful book gave me a fresh perspective on anatomy and physiology and the origin of our bodies. Shubin made me rethink the inconveniences of middle age in a new light, showing how we’re all living historical documents (complete with lots of mistakes), and how our bodies convey modified pieces of our ancient ancestors. It’s a wonderful thing to get to see ourselves as a window into time in this way.

Day 26: Phil Rossi, author of Crescent and Eden
If i had to choose, I’d say one of my favorite books received as a Christmas gift was Stephen King’s On Writing. Part memoir part and part “best practices”, I instantly related to the author’s take on the process as well as his outlook on creating. Needless to say, this book has provided a lot of inspiration and I re-read it on a yearly basis. When I need a boost–some aid to help me through a creative rut–Stephen King’s On Writing is just the right book for the job!

Day 27: Mary Carlomagno, author of Give It Up!: My Year of Learning to Live Better with Less and Live More, Want Less: 52 Ways to Find Order in Your Life
The best gift book I ever received is Adriana Trigiani’s Don’t Sing at the Table: Life Lessons from my Grandmother. My dear friend Judi gave it to me, mainly because of our shared Italian heritage and because one of the grandmothers in the book shares the same name as my new baby daughter, Lucia. I specifically chose the name Lucia for it’s meaning. In Italian, Lucia means light. Light by definition makes things visible. As I read the book, I was reminded that good friends, like good books do the same thing. They make the important things in your life visible by shining their light on the lessons that you are to learn, when you are ready to learn them.

Day 28: Valerie Peterson, author of Peterson’s Happy Hour and Peterson’s Holiday Helper
My first favorite gift book was The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen. I was very young and it was from my godfather, my Uncle Louie. I loved looking at the book and, later, reading it—and I credit The Snow Queen (and all those other early books) for my lifelong love of reading… Today, “the best book I ever received as a gift” is usually the latest one I’ve been thoughtfully given. So right now my favorite is Hopper, a slim volume about the paintings of Edward Hopper by the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, Mark Strand. I’ve been on a Hopper kick and this year visited both the artist’s Nyack home and his Greenwich Village studio. My friend Andrea remembered my mentioning those visits and gave me that “just the right book” this holiday.

Day 31: Jeff Sharlet, author of Sweet Heaven When I Die and The Family
 In 2004, my in-laws gave me Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead for Christmas. They didn’t know how much Robinson’s first novel meant to me, so it was a lucky choice. Not a hard one, though — it was one of the big books of the year, Robinson’s only fiction since her amazing debut, Housekeeping, in 1981. That, incidentally, is the single book I’ve given as a gift not once but multiple times — I should buy it in bulk. Or stand on street corners passing it out like a religious tract. Anyway, Robinson’s new novel should have been just the right choice.

Earlier that year I’d found myself in Iowa City on a book tour. My host says, “What do you want to do while you’re here?” No question about that — I want to meet Marilynne Robinson. My host, the poet and children’s author Laurel Snyder, had heard Robinson was teaching a Bible class in a church. But which church? Compounding the problem was the fact of a blizzard. But we marched out into the snow, moving from church to church, looking for lighted windows. And we found her! We stomped in, covered with ice and snow, shaking our jackets and hats like wet dogs. We’d arrived mid-class, a meeting for bearded poets who wanted to understand scripture. Robinson didn’t seem to find our presence strange, at all. She directed a man to find us some chairs and Bibles, and we were in. But here’s the thing — it was kind of disappointing. The book I was touring on is subtitled “A Heretic’s Bible.” What Robinson delivered that night was some pretty orthodox liberal Christian teaching. Nothing ugly, just nothing startling, either.

So, anyway, Christmas — Gilead — my in-laws. “Thanks,” I said, caressing the book’s beautiful, textured cover, sure I’d never read it. I was going to stick with Housekeeping. I don’t think I read Gilead until my wife was pregnant with our daughter. And then I read it, at first, like a how-to book. A very, very slow how-to book. It’s an epistolary novel, a series of letters from an old and dying preacher to the young son of his late-life marriage. The preacher lives in a small town in Iowa. He’s led a quiet life. There’s not much to say. His interpretations are orthodox liberal Protestantism. Except, except — they are and they aren’t, and the moments of the book that linger are the most ordinary ones, not the words you go searching for in a blizzard — though there are some of those, too, from the “shining star of radicalism,” as Iowa was once known — but the words that fall like snow on a flat field, no wind, accumulating, until the landscape is transformed. Not blanketed, but, strangely, revealed.


A HUGE thank-you to all the very talented authors who shared their thoughts with us this month, and to Laura Rossi of Laura Rossi Public Relations for making it all happen,  to Whitney Peeling, and to all of our Facebook fans, new and old!

2 Comments leave one →
  1. January 3, 2012 10:44 am

    Thank you to all the authors and to Roxanne Coady and the Just The Right Book team. Our Holiday Facebook series was a rich, unique, and powerful collaboration — cheers to all the authors, writers, editors, publicists, agents and book folks that made the series possible.


  1. Week 3 Recap: Authors’ favorite book gifts « Just the Right Book Blog

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