The alchemy of the school year has simmered down now. English teachers are in a pressure cooker the last month of any semester. We’re assigning and then grading and then upset at ourselves for not leaving that one last essay out of the curriculum this year. I had nightmares that last week during final exams. They woke me up in bed and had me saying the old and true: it was just a dream; go back to sleep. Let it go.
I don’t envy being a student during finals, and I’m sure being a teacher is not any easier. But in the context of how so many careers work, teaching rewards us with long breaks which keep us at the pulse of our own high school days. That ensuring rhythm keeps an aging part of us connected to youth through its pattern and exposure.
Crazily, I’ve experienced two novels as an escape when I couldn’t squeeze any more time from a turnip to devote to social and work commitments: Camus’ The Stranger and Morrison’s Sula. Both texts have me looking at the fire glowing and steaming in the fireplace a little longer, a little deeper.
Even as an English teacher, I appreciate this reminder of what I tell my students all the time: we read to be human. It’s through a gifted artist’s perception and patience that humans get a private chance to become better humans, to understand where our judgments come from and how at a tip of an angle, they can change distinctly, offering just enough pause that can redirect our lens just so.
If you’re still out there shopping today and don’t know what to get, consider two things: one is any version of this keyboard (which I’m using now as one tributary-goal to be more tech efficient), and second is this short list of texts, mostly oldies and some of which I’ve referenced here before, to complement your generous heart:
1) Ann Morrow Lindberg’s Gift from the Sea. This is hands down one of my favorite ones to share. It’s perfect for a woman to read, and it’s even better for a man to know. I’ve written with it countless times. Buy a thousand copies.
2) Albert Camus The Stranger. This is not for the friend who likes to read books on how to increase revenue, although maybe he or she could use a break in thought. This one will take you through a philosophy by way of man, murder, and indifference.
3) Toni Morrison’s Sula. There’s a reason why she won the Nobel Prize. This book distinguishes between a writer and a writer. You’ll be thinking of her language for acres and acres. Buy a copy for yourself, too. And then buy Song of Soloman, and…
4) Janisse Ray’s Ecology of a Cracker Childhood. This one is perfect for neutral readers who maybe didn’t know they like a little science mixed in with their literature. If your recipient lives in The South, this could be another connection. Beautifully written, one of a kind.
5) Waguih Ghali’s Beer in the Snooker Club. This one is random and complicated. If you have a friend who enjoys somewhat obscure world literature or who has a tinge of certain literary snobbery, this could be a treat. I read this in grad school but found myself more preoccupied with the autobiographical nature of this text and with the author himself, who committed suicide in 1968., after reading it. It’s memorable even if you read it only once.
6) Alice Munro’s Something I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You. This a collection of 13 eloquent short stories. This can be a one-short-story-at-a-time read. Read and savor. Savor and repeat. Each story leaves a distinct scene in your mind. It’s yet another Canadian contribution to art and wonder.
This list could easily spiral into disseminating rings, all shining in different categories.
What is your go-to gift book? What have you read recently?
That’s all I got today, folks. I hope to come back with some experiences to share, one of which includes a cabin, another includes a changing savannah, and the last one includes new running shoes.
Happy Holidays, friends.