‘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.

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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,

Susie

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

Is Writing an Act of Bravery? How About Sleepovers?

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An act of bravery by a grimacing kid. And a not-so-subtle message unrelated to the rest of the content of this blog post. That is all.

I was so thrilled by the nice response I got to my essay in The New York Times a couple of weeks ago. Like the other pieces I’ve published recently, like this one and this one, the essay was deeply personal and more than a little revealing. Besides admitting to sometimes wishing my son would move out to a nice farm in the country for a week or two, I also came clean (again) about my struggles with secondary infertility.

I noticed that when all my lovely friends and supporters re-tweeted and re-blogged my essay, or shared it on Facebook, they kept referring to it as brave. “A brave essay by my friend Susie Meserve,” one of them said, and another, “Thank you for your honesty and bravery.” Honest, I’ll cop to—always. (Honest to a fault, methinks.) But brave? At the time I posted my snarky little article about parenting, another friend was publishing a piece about negative portrayals of women of color in television, for which, I’m sure, she received a $%^& storm of offensive comments. And of course I thought about the incredible bravery of Jim Foley. I was hard pressed to think of myself, in an essay complaining about the boredom and existentialism of parenting, as being “brave.”

I raised this with my friend An Honest Mom, who shared the smart point that we always think of other people as brave before we accept the idea that we ourselves are. And that, for many people, what I did in those personal essays—admitting to pettiness, jealousy, parental ennui, grief, and infertility, not to mention contending with years and years of rejection as a writer—is just that: brave. Well, gosh. That made me feel good. After all, I am the woman who spent seven years writing a book about my own anxiety, and how when I traveled around the world with my now-husband, fear kept me from experiencing all kinds of adventures.

That I might be brave for sharing that truth about myself is almost uncomfortably ironic, and more than a little pleasing to think about.

I had been mulling this over for a few days when I stumbled into a sweet conversation with my son L, who at five seems to have simultaneously inherited his mother’s risk-aversion and society’s ideas about what bravery really is. I was puttering around the kitchen while he drew pictures on the floor and practiced writing “letters” to me and his dad.

“Mama, did you know I’m not as brave as J?”

“You’re not?” I feigned surprise. J is an extremely intrepid friend. He’ll scale anything around.

“Nope. He’s much braver, because he climbs much better than me.”

“Well, you know,” I said in a fit of genius, “people are brave in different ways. Like, for example, I’m not very brave about climbing either, not like Daddy or J. But I’m brave because I write things that people don’t always like, and I write them anyway. And sometimes it’s hard to be a writer, because people say no to you a lot, and it’s brave that I do it.”

He was enthralled.

“And,” I continued, “I know a way that you’re brave that J isn’t as brave.”

“You do?”

“I do. You do a great job at sleepovers. And J still has a really hard time with them.”

“Yeah!” he said, jumping up and down. “I’m brave at sleepovers!”

“Yup,” I said, feeling utterly content with everything: my tenuous bravery, and L’s.

This question of bravery keeps coming up. L is more than a little obsessed with it lately. Playing “dinosaurs versus dragons,” he’s constantly asking me which team is braver, and his answers reveal a very narrow-minded idea of courage. For example, yesterday he told me that the dinosaurs were braver because they were winning. I suggested that maybe the dragons were braver for keeping on fighting even when they were losing, but no—that was the wrong answer.

I’m obviously more hip to bravery than L, but nonetheless I wonder whether my own ideas about what’s brave have been a little primitive. Like traveling with B. The entire time, I told myself that he was the brave one, because he seemed to be completely unafraid. But maybe, for pushing through my fears, for not giving up, for ultimately deciding I could have traveled forever, I was brave, too.

I don’t know. But I nonetheless like the idea of reframing bravery. For many years, I haven’t believed that I have been very brave at all. But I have started to wonder if maybe bravery is something different than I’ve thought.

And, an aside: NaNoWriMo. The goal is 50,000 words. Me? I’m shooting for 25,000. It may not be an act of bravery, but anyone who meets that goal, while working and parenting and preparing for the holidays, my hat is off to you.

Stay tuned for the 2014 Literary Gift Guide, coming soon!

Susie

2012 Literary Gift Guide

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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