I received eight books for Christmas, and I’m thrilled! (of course!)
In terms of literary karma, my life is just about in balance, because I gave roughly as many.
We are a reading clan, so we were all chuffed, during gift exchanges this Christmas, to be handed nicely wrapped packages that were clearly books. Because books don’t feel like anything else.
There’s that first few seconds, when you hold and squeeze and gently handle a wrapped book, and discover its girth (non fiction? scholarly?), the stiffness of the cover (hardcover? trade paperback?), and the quantity (two books? Yay!).
Then, after ripping off the paper, there’s that careful few minutes of turning the book over in your hands, taking in its cover, connecting with its title and author—or else not at all—and reading the front and back flaps. Ahhhhhhhhh….
My new books are especially varied this year.
My youngest son, Christian, went a bit crazy and gave me four. As book buyers go, he’s a bloodhound—always searching out unusual, esoteric, out of print or distinctive, niche books, preferably about interests we share.
As I opened them, he introduced each (books that come with a back story; it doesn’t get much better than that).
The first is the graphic novel adaptation of the teleplay that Harlan Ellison wrote for Gene Rodenberry’s original Star Trek series, which is considered one of the show’s greatest episodes, titled The City on the Edge of Forever. A classic.
Christian explained that when Rodenberry received Ellison’s completed script, he was dismayed by its darkness and pessimism (all Star Trek fans know that its creator passionately espoused a hopeful and inspiring vision of the future). When Ellison refused to make any changes to his teleplay, Rodenberry did them himself. Ellison was outraged.
And so began a feud that lasted for years.
The graphic novel version of The City on the Edge of Tomorrow isn’t available at the Library, but if you’re curious about this legendary and controversial episode (which really is memorable), then you’ll be thrilled to know that the Library does have the unlimited edition trade paperback version of Ellison’s story! What a treat!
The next two books I received from my son are supreme examples of his method. The actual titles are the works of Austrian playwright, novelist, journalist and biographer, Stefan Zweig. They are Beware of Pity and The Post-office Girl.
Stefan Zweig, who died in a suicide pact with his wife in 1942, in exile in Brazil, is a fascinating artist and intellectual who is better known and still far more popular in France than in the English-speaking world. I have never read him, and I’m pretty sure my son hasn’t either.
But Christian’s curiosity was piqued when he discovered that Wes Anderson, the American film director, film producer and screenwriter whose work he marvels at, revealed in an interview that it’s Zweig’s work— especially the novels Beware of Pity and The Post Office Girl— and life that were the inspiration for a film that we both loved, The Grand Budapest Hotel.
On the surface of things, it seems impossible that such a tragic literary figure should have inspired Anderson’s loveliest, most whimsical and clever work to date. I suppose I’ll just have to read both novels to discover how this happened.
We share a personal connection to this subject too, as we are huge fans of BBC television series. One in particular, The Hour, is especially relevant because it’s set in the 1950’s, in the newsrooms of the BBC’s early television years (series 1 and 2 are available at the Library: I recommend them highly). I’m sure Christian was thinking of it when he purchased This New Noise for me.
With national public television under siege in many countries in the 21st century, Charlotte Higgins’ book is timely.
* * * *
On Boxing Day, I received two extravagant hard cover novels from my daughter-in-law Anne (who is married to another of my sons, a twin, and not to Christian). We often swap reading lists that we find online, and this year, we experienced the double-whammy of exchanging books from shared 2015 Best Books lists. I gave her Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies and she gave me A Spool of Blue Thread, by Anne Tyler and The Buried Giant, by Kazuo Ishiguro.
I can’t wait to read them and then pass them along to her. Tyler writes beautiful narratives that emerge from the families and communities that are the fulcrum of our lives, and it will be a joy to come back to her—it’s been a while.
Ishiguro is constantly inventing worlds that are as varied in space and in time as the stories he chooses to tell. This latest novel—his first in ten years— is a real departure, even for him. The truth is, I only know Ishiguro’s work through the cinematic adaptations of novels like The Remains of the Day or Never Let Me Go. I can’t wait to dig into The Buried Giant.
My firstborn twin son also offered me a book (fear not, I’m out of sons).
Though his reading is often escapist, much like his brothers’ (he loves suspense, horror, fantasy and scifi novels), his mind also likes to travel some of the pathways that mine does, in search of interconnections and convergences.
This year, he found Ursula Franklin for me, and I’m immensely grateful. He heard her on CBC radio and was rapt. I think it must have been on Shelagh Rogers’ The Next Chapter. But her work and thoughts have also been presented in an episode of CBC radio’s IDEAS, with Paul Kennedy. (Go to the links I’ve provided: within minutes, you’ll be spellbound).
Now in her nineties, Franklin, a German-born physicist, Quaker and ground-breaking feminist has written and spoken about science, social justice, peace, the uses of technology and so much more.
Ursula Franklin Speaks, Thoughts and Afterthoughts, is a compilation of some of the very best speeches, addresses, presentations and interviews she has given during her long and remarkable career.
I look forward to discovering each and every one of these, in time. It will sit at my bedside for months to come.
The last book I received came to me through a Secret Santa exchange, and pulls me into another literary space altogether. It’s the biography of Saint-Denys Garneau, a gifted and rather mysterious poet and painter who was born in Montreal in 1912 and died of heart failure at the age of 31. It is titled simply: De Saint-Denys Garneau, Biographie, and is written in French by Michel Biron.
Like so many before him, his work was underappreciated by his peers and the general public (it was more warmly received in France). He has been called Quebec’s “first truly modern poet.”
That’s where my book stash and I stand at this moment. What about you?
What books did you get for Christmas?
Let us know: it’s a great way to grow a terrific to-read list for 2016.
And HAPPY NEW YEAR!