Now where I come from, you’re not even allowed to think about Christmas until the entire Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade has passed by, culminating with Santa in his sleigh. I do own a calendar and I am mindful of the fact that we haven’t even put on spooky costumes to scare neighbours with yet. Or as I like to call it, getting dressed and leaving the house.
But on the off chance that you like giving books as holiday gifts (whatever you celebrate — we used to call it December Greed in my house), and on the even off-er chance that you like to shop early in order to spend hours in your Candy Spelling Tribute Wrapping Room reveling in shiny paper, ribbons and tape, here are a few I recommend:
The Most of Nora Ephron (Doubleday, £20, http://crv.li/lswt4z) is a collection of the late, truly great Ephron’s work, and includes nonfiction about her life and times, about journalism, about food, and about interesting women she profiled during her career. It contains an extract from Heartburn and another from the When Harry Met Sally screenplay (with a follow-up essay about the writing of), and the entire text of her play Lucky Guy. Chunks of I Remember Nothing and I Feel Bad About My Neck are here, as well.
Ephron’s great gift was observation but hers was a kind of X-ray vision that saw not just what people did, but why there did it. And “people” includes Ephron herself, who wasn’t precious about poking fun at her own foolishness when pointing it out in others. A case in point is Serial Monogamy: A Memoir, the essay tracking her life through food fads — and not only hers, but an entire generation’s — which contains this priceless gem: “This was right around the time endive was discovered, which was followed by arugula, which was followed by radicchio, which was followed by frisee, which was followed b the three M’s — mesclun, mache, and microgreens — and that, in a nutshell, is the history of the last forty years from the point of view of lettuce.”
The essays at the start of the book — journalism about the art of journalism — should be required reading in every media studies classroom in the US and the UK. In fact just read the essays. They’re more valuable than classroom time, are succinct, and are much less expensive than tuition. Though most were written in the 1970s, they still ring true based on my experience many decades later once, that is, you subtract smoking at your desk and getting wasted over lunch. I’d also recommend that everyone hand their daughter the adjacent essays, Reunion, written in 1972, and Commencement Address to Wellesley Class of 1996. Read them and the question “Do we really need Feminism?” answers itself with a resounding yes.
I could bang on and on about how I laughed and how truly angry some of these essays made me (not at the author, at what she described), but that would be wasting your time. The point is: READ THIS BOOK. You’ll thank me for it later.
The Stories in the Stars, by Susanna Hislop (with illustrations by Hannah Waldron) (Hutchinson, £20, http://crv.li/fx3hr4) is a perfect gift for anyone in love with mythology. It’s not a star-gazer’s book, per se, but a storyteller’s book. Each of the short essays begins in the stars and constellations, but Hislop’s often quirky interpretations of classical myths (from a range of cultures) means there’s a bit of rearrangement going on. The results are sometimes whimsical, sometimes fantastical or funny, and often poignant. Straddling the line between fiction and nonfiction, between fact and fancy, it’s a glorious physical object, as well as a good read. Would-be writers will find much inspiration here, and it might even prompt requests for a telescope or a trip to the planetarium.
This last work, Inside Charlie’s Chocolate Factory, was sent to me as a gift — most cherished — by its author, Lucy Mangan. (Puffin Books, £20, http://crv.li/hd23x4 ) I’ve been a massive fan of Lucy’s columns for the Guardian and Stylist for years now, and began interacting with her on Twitter a while back (interacting sounds nicer than stalking, doesn’t it?). We bonded over a shared love for all things New Yorker magazine, and often trade book recommendations.
We also share a love for children’s books, and while my particular passions are Charlotte’s Web and Mary Poppins, what right-thinking person doesn’t love Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, by Roald Dahl? It is definitely one of the memorable texts of my youth — and thanks to Lucy I now know that this is because it came out in the United States first, in the 1960s (when I was at elementary school)! Seems British publishers were slower to see the story’s charm. More fools them.
Puffin have done Lucy proud. Every page is alive with pictures of international editions of the book, stills from both the movie versions, television, and more. Even the margins are colour-coded by theme. And Lucy’s prose — full of insider gossip and history — goes down as quickly and happily as a bar of Wonka’s finest.
The publisher says it’s for ages 7 and up.
There you have three recommendations to keep you ticking over. I promise to update the blog more regularly now, and once again I can only thank you all for sticking with me. I’ve just been hellishly busy with book festivals and going bankrupt, which has distracted me from blogging.