‘Tis the Season to be Bookish: The 2014 Literary Gift Guide

SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERAYou know how the song goes: Deck the Halls with Books, Books, and More Books. That’s right, folks: in case you missed the obvious signs—muzak carols, Black Friday sales, Cyber Monday ads, the Northeast dumped with snow, and Christmas decorations flooding out the doors of Walgreen’s, not to mention the giant trees lit up in every town square—it’s that time again.

The holidays.

Despite being an agnostic-verging-on-atheist who decries commercialism and doesn’t let her kid eat a ton of sugar, I have a particular weakness for Christmas. I love the short days, especially when, come six pm, my cup is filled with a festive glass of red wine or a stiff eggnog. I find myself following all the Christmas traditions we had as kids: the Christmas calendar, which “elves” fill with goodies every night for my son during Advent; listening to Amahl and the Night Visitors while we decorate the Christmas ficus; the extravagant brunch we eat on Christmas day, whether we’re celebrating with my family or not; and giving gifts to my loved ones. This time of year is rife with possibility for great gift-giving: in addition to Christmas, there’s the eery and magical Solstice, on December 21; Kwanzaa, starting on the 26th; and of course Hannukah, starting on December 16—which means that as of this writing, you still have between 14 and 24 days to purchase (or make!) gifts for the favorite writer or reader on your list.

And so, without further ado, I present my 2014 Literary Gift Guide.

Grab yourself an eggnog and start reading.


The Secret Garden panties, courtesy of Lauren Carroll and superpowerstudio.

1. Literary Undies? Why the heck not? Lauren Carroll at superpowerstudio has cooked up these beautiful, comfortable, upcycled (this is key: they’re NOT recycled underpants!) underwear for women. Here’s the literary gem: The Secret Garden. And they’re packaged nicely, too. IMG_0714

You can find these and more (Lemon Ice! High Tea! The Life Aquatic!) on etsy.

2. While you’re on etsy, check out this beautiful and different Jane Eyre cuff bracelet, the Edgar Allen Poe literary scarf, and this soy candle, which purports to smell like an English library. Who would’ve thunk it?

419937_10150486040541012_669801532_n3. Is reading sexy? Yes, it is. As usual, books make great gifts. My favorite reads of the past year include Run by Ann Patchett, The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver, How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia by Hamid Mohsin, and Just Kids by Patti Smith. On my to-read list is Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge and Meghan Daum’s book of essays called The Unspeakable (in case you missed my “Personal Essays that will Gut You” post, you can find a link to one of those essays here.) Here are some other great resources for finding out what books were the talk of the town in 2014: A talk with New York Times editor Pamela Paul on KQED’s show “Forum,” with Michael Krasny, and The Best Books of the Year, from The Guardian (two parts!). And here’s a plug for your local bookseller: buy your books from them, not Amazon. That is all.

The dark watchers, creatures not unlike the elves who fill my son's Advent calendar.

The dark watchers, creatures not unlike the elves who fill my son’s Advent calendar.

4. Here’s another beautiful book: In Search of The Dark Watchers, with paintings by my incredibly talented father-in-law, Benjamin Brode, and text by his good friend Thom Steinbeck (yup, you guessed it: John Steinbeck’s son). You can pick yourself up a copy here. Softcover is $40; the exquisite hard cover is $125.

5. Of course, if your giftee isn’t into books (for shame!), there are always magazines and literary journals. Consider supporting the journal Rock & Sling (current issue features poems by me and my pal Mike Dockins!).

6. A desk. No, I’m serious. Your favorite writer probably writes at her kitchen table (busted), or on the go. How amazing a gift would a desk be? This blog post by The Writing Nut describes perfectly the best criteria for selecting a writer’s desk.

7. Or maybe you’re thinking smallerThis website has a whole host of funny mugs (my favorite? “I’m figuratively dying for a cuppa”), as well as other whimsical bits and pieces for your resident grammar nerd.

8. If you’re feeling crafty, this Pinterest page has some fun ideas for you, like Steampunk Altered Books and origami book marks. Yes!

9. And don’t forget charity. I like to support Poets & Writers magazine and Poetry Daily, (they’re pledge-driving as we speak), but there are also a number of reputable literacy organizations like Reading is Fundamental, A Chance Through Literacy, and Literacy for Incarcerated Teens. As with any charity, you should check it out yourself, and make sure it passes your sniff test. And remember that, like many things book-related, you should think global but also act local (ahem): there may be a worthy non-profit bringing books, or literacy, to underserved people in YOUR community!

10. You still working on that egg nog? I had to plug, again, the book Tequila Mockingbird: Cocktails with a Literary Twist by Tim Federle. In the right hands, this could be genius.

Happy happy,


Also check out:

The 2013 Literary Gift Guide

The 2012 Literary Gift Guide

The Literary Gift Guide on Pinterest

Wearable Literary Gifts on Gimme Some Oven


I looked for a piece of writing about the Solstice to post today, darkest day of the year. When we lived in Norway, the Solstice was a big deal; the pinnacle, or the nadir, depending how you see it, of the mørketid (the dark time). I remember then both feeling a festive sort of connection and relief that from then on, the days would get slightly less cold and dark. I was pregnant, morning sick, and homesick, and it wasn’t the happiest Solstice, then in 2008.

This year, I’m with family, appreciating my gifts, appreciating the dark.

So here, since I can’t post a Solstice-y bit, I decided to post an excerpt from my memoir. It’s just a little piece about Christmas, and I hope you enjoy. (Context: B and I are traveling in Peru in 2004 with his dad and stepmom, whose names I have abbreviated below to T and S.)

Incidentally–you know that fiction contest? My story is in the top handful. If you still can and want to vote for it using your Twitter account, I hope you will–and share with anyone you think might be interested.

Happy Solstice, everyone.


We got back to Cusco just before Christmas. I was a little weepy and sad to be so far from home during the holidays, but we kept busy. We dragged T and S on a ten-hour bus ride to the famous Colca Canyon and joined a tourist trip there. A combi drove us into the canyon to visit the spot where you can watch the condors soar. I didn’t see any condors. But we did get to spend the night in an ancient stone posada halfway down the canyon. The air hung heavily, laced with frost. In a stone room with a large fireplace, our hosts fed us omelets, alpaca steaks, and an unusual quinoa soup with milk as its base and chunks of queso fresco and fresh herbs. They brought wizened, tart little apples for dessert. The table was one long slab of wood, a farmer’s table with benches on either side.

The next night was Christmas Eve, and back in the city of Arequipa we shared a holiday meal—roast turkey, red wine, salad, and chocolate mousse, this last the offering of the Belgian woman who was there—with the Peruvian family who ran our hotel and had booked our trip to the canyon. I gave my three companions a gift each: Hiram Bingham’s book about Macchu Picchu for T, a pair of earrings for S, and a handmade journal for B.

Christmas day, on a dare, B ordered guinea pig in the one restaurant that was open in Arequipa. The cuy came fully intact, its little legs pulled up, its eyes wide open. B pulled his lettuce garnish over the cuy’s head so it didn’t stare at him too much as he ate. “Mascotas?” I could hear Veronica saying, in my head.

“It tastes like chicken,” he announced finally, and I leaned over to try a bite.

Yeah—stringy, greasy, flavorless chicken, with a lettuce-leaf hat, beady eyes, and ratty little teeth. I was eating ceviche, perhaps a gastric risk in an inland city, but it was delicious. I thought the Peruvians had gotten that one right.

We returned to Cusco the next day, said goodbye to T and S several days later, and spent the next week traveling around the Sacred Valley together and hanging out.

The ten days between B’s parents leaving and us getting to Bolivia were some of our nicest times in South America, and I didn’t much feel like leaving Peru. I loved being in Cusco, living in an apartment with hand-me-down furniture from travelers long gone. I loved to wake up in the morning and make coca tea and look out over the backyard of the cattycorner house, where the woman in the apron was collecting eggs and feeding her chickens. One day I saw her groping after one with one hand, machete in the other, but the chicken ran away, and then I did too before I saw her catch and kill it.

The sky was enormous in the Sacred Valley, and most mornings were clear. The romanticism of the place made me feel pregnant with longing and very far from home, but as though I could stay away forever. The evidence of gringos who’d stayed was all over Cusco: in San Blas, the arty, chic part of town, ex-pats ran restaurants that served delights like quiche and salad and chilled chardonnay. There were bars and places to hear music, and a café where one day I sat with my coffee and journal all morning and heard nothing but English. That was strange. We planned to spend New Year’s Eve in Cusco. Then, on the second or third of January, we would catch the bus to Puno, the big city on the Peruvian side of Lake Titicaca, and pass into Bolivia.

2012 Literary Gift Guide


Wreath. Pretty festive, eh?

I know it’s cliché, and that the holiday has become little more than a period of greed, commercialism, and obligatory giving—but I love Christmas. I always have. I love drinking spiked eggnog, eating bourbon balls, and gazing at the Christmas tree. I love to light candles and listen to “Amahl and the Night Visitors.” I love being with my family when we’re all feeling easy and rested. And I love giving gifts. I admit it.


And so all morning I have been thinking about my 2012 Literary Gift Guide.

1. I can’t decide how I feel about Kindles and other e-readers, but there’s no denying that the reader on your list would probably love a portable e-reading device. And while I have complained about Audible.com in the past, I wouldn’t say no to an Audible gift certificate (3 months for $45).

2. What about a subscription to Poets & Writers Magazine? A few weeks ago, I got an email asking me to become one of “200 new friends by December 31st.” You can give a $35, $50, or up to $200 donation, and you get a year’s subscription. Great gift. In recent years, because of the Internet, P&W’s classifieds have become a little less relevant and important, but they have good articles about publishing, plus profiles and interviews with wonderful writers.

Thank you google images and pw

Thank you google images and pw

3. If it’s cold hard books you want to give, check out Tara Conklin’s popcorn post My Top Five Books for Fall. I haven’t read any of these yet, though the Zadie Smith and Junot Diaz are on my to-read list as well.

4. Or let your reader choose for herself: give a gift certificate to your local bookstore! This article in The Billfold says the independent bookstore is not dead; I hope not. This time of year especially, I really try to support my local bookstore.

5. Every writer needs a great notebook or journal. I thought this one was pretty cool, especially for a man who participated in MOvember. And apparently the maker of this one didn’t hear that unicorns are alive and well in North Korea. faith-meserve

6. Well, I couldn’t post this guide without a self-plug. Give the gift of Faith! I’ll sign it for you. You can buy it directly from Finishing Line Press, on Amazon, or directly from me—my price is $12, plus shipping. Email me at susiemeserve@yahoo.com if you’re interested.

7. A subscription to a literary journal is always a good present. I like to support my friend Mike Dockins’s journal Redactions, based out of Spokane, Washington. And there are so many others…

8. Typewriter key cufflinks, anyone? Or earrings? 

I gave these to the Hubs last year.

I gave these to the Hubs last year.

9. A room of one’s own. Offer to babysit for your favorite writer who is also a parent. Or buy them some time at a local coworking space like Citizen Space.

10. Give the gift of support. No, I don’t mean bankroll your favorite writer for a year (though that would be a very, very nice gift). Tell her you love what she does and take her out for a pick-me-up when she needs it!

Happy Holidays, everyone.

Also check out:

20 Best Gifts for Writers

The Literary Gift Guide Part 2

No Means Yes

Happy New Year, everyone! I have been feeling pretty festive this year, despite the fact that Northern California may be the weirdest place in the world to spend Christmas and New Year’s. We went for a walk in sweatshirts on Christmas morning. This New England girl thought that strange, strange, strange. I do really love the vacation aspect of things, though. L off daycare, and my semester ended, has meant a week of fun outings with me not rushing him home to frantically grade papers while he naps. In fact, I have been doing as much napping as he has. And then drinking wine and eating too much chocolate in the evenings. Oof. Lovely.

I have been thinking a lot lately about how, as a parent, I have my strengths and my weaknesses. This is elementary, my dear Watson, but also probably a rationalization, like hey, no one does everything right, right? (Nervous titter) But really, I have this sense that it’s good to know what you’re good at and what you suck at. Witness: I am good at providing. I make abundant, healthy, tasty food for my kid, and I let him help me do it. Yesterday, together, we baked banana-almond muffins (he did the stirring and the illegal licking of batter) while I simultaneously roasted a brined organic chicken that we later ate with quinoa salad and collard greens; nevermind that he was in a mood and barely ate any of it. What else…I’m good at taking him to do fun things with other kids (this week: the dinosaurs, the art space, the playground, the library). I’m good at reading to him and singing to him. I am very good at soothing hurts and being fully present when he needs love and attention because someone has wronged him or he’s scared or he’s not feeling well. Yup, good at all those things.

And I suck at getting down on the floor and playing trucks with him. I expect him to play by himself a lot of the time, probably too much. And I can be really, really impatient. Because he is two, L wants to do everything that I say no to. To him, “L, please don’t do that” means “L, please feel free to keep doing that annoying thing over and over again until I yell at you.” And, I will just admit, I do sometimes yell. I try consequences, diversion, all the stuff you’re supposed to try, but I sometimes lose my temper and yell. So, for example, last night at dinner B and I repeatedly asked L to sit properly in his high chair (i.e., don’t crouch in a position likely to make you fall on your head). We asked upwards of five times before I roared, “L, sit properly in your chair, now!” The whole table went silent, and those knees were under the table again faster than you could say quinoa. For a second, I felt infinitely powerful.

This morning, L got really excited about flushing the toilet. So he flushed, and then he sat and fiddled with the flusher and flooded the toilet bowl with water again and again. So after a couple minutes of this I said, as patiently as I could, “Okay, L, that’s enough. Please stop doing that. L, please stop doing that. L, please stop doing that” until I roared, “L, what did I say? Please STOP DOING THAT!” And this little voice, bless him, said, “Don’t yell at me!” and started to cry. And what did I feel then? You know, I felt like a jerk, but I also felt incredibly grateful to have the kind of relationship with my kid where he can tell me when I’m being a jerk, and I can hear it. So I sat down with him and hugged him and said “I’m sorry for yelling. I shouldn’t have yelled, but I was frustrated because I need you to listen better.”

Did the lesson stick? Undoubtedly not. He will persist in doing everything I ask him not to, and I will yell again. But for some reason the whole interaction made me feel like even though I’m a big nasty ogre of a mom, maybe I’m doing something right, too.