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Editors’ Picks: Thanksgiving Reads

November 20, 2012

The editorial staff on the books they'll remember this Thanksgiving.

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Image from Flickr via freefotouk

Here, Guernica‘s staff takes a moment to talk about the books for which they’re thankful. Below, find children’s books, novels, and poetry; words that comfort, shock, and delight. Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

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Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt

“The first week of August hangs at the very top of summer, the top of the live-long year, like the highest seat of a Ferris wheel when it pauses in its turning.” Re-reading this first sentence, it does not surprise me that I fell head over heels in love with this book in fourth grade. Beyond the beautiful language, there is the plot: 10-year-old Winnie Foster happens upon the Tuck family, who accidentally drank from an eternal spring 100 years ago. They invite Winnie into their home, and it’s as if she’s one of them. But of course she is not, and that tension—Will she drink from the spring? Will she run away with Jesse Tuck when she turns 17? Will her own family ever understand her? Will she be forever changed regardless of the choice she makes?—drives the novel forward at a gallop.
—Erika Anderson, Editorial Intern

Why Love Hurts by Eva Illouz

I bought Eva Illouz’s Why Love Hurts this past June, a week before moving to Maryland for the summer. The week after I arrived, the “derecho” hit: Welcome to the East Coast. The week after that, I began reading the book, and a very important friend came to visit. When the hardcover had first arrived, I’d quickly removed the dust jacket, embarrassed to be seen with a book titled Why Love Hurts if I couldn’t explain that this was a serious, scholarly, sociological work and not a Danielle Steel novel. I then carried the (now-tastefully minimalist) book with me every day: during the red line commute into the nation’s capital, during lunch hour at the kebob place in Foggy Bottom, during walks around my Silver Spring neighborhood. Illouz says that the idea for the book came from hundreds of conversations with friends, all of whom were struggling to answer the title question. After underlining and annotating nearly every page, after reading about emotional capitalism, how online dating is a game-changer, how “love” has changed over time and what’s wrong with the current fad of psychotherapy—after reading all this “serious, scholarly, sociological” material that deconstructed ideas I’d taken for granted, two things happened: One, I understood why, mere weeks after my friend visited, we were no longer on speaking terms. And, because of that understanding, I could breathe a little more easily in the muggy DC atmosphere. For those two things, I’m thankful.
—Angela Chen, Editorial Assistant, Guernica Daily

The Collected Stories by Grace Paley

Grace Paley first came to me in a poem, a twenty-line charmer on lust and aging, slid across the table of a San Francisco dive. If that line reeks of sentimentality, it channels what Paley’s Collected Stories don’t. They’re wry (sometimes hilarious) odes to disappointment—full of families with mismatched needs and lovers that just sort of wander off. They brim with the resigned but restless wisdom of the disillusioned. If that sounds un-fun, it’s not; I’m thankful for their salty anchor and the little skiff that brought them to me.
—Reed Cooley, Editorial Intern

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

When we were little, my Mom would gather my twin brother and me into her bed, and she would read to us. There were many books over the years, but the one I remember most clearly was Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time. I was too young to understand the controversy that surrounded the beloved series and its author, but I was old enough to admire Meg Murry’s brilliance and awkwardness, her ferocious love for her family; Charles Wallace’s precocious genius juxtaposed with the innocence of the child he was; the mystifying and slightly frightening Mrs.’ Who, Which, and Whatsit. A Wrinkle in Time was my entry-point into the fantasy books I would love so much as I got older: Tamora Pierce’s The Lioness Quartet, which showed me a woman could be both a lover and a fighter (in the best sense of both words); Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, Lev Grossman’s The Magicians. “When a concept is too complex for adults, I write it for children,” Madeleine L’Engle was fond of saying. “This is a difficult and dangerous world, and no amount of sticking our heads in the sand is going to make it any easier.” I’m thankful for that.
—Michelle Koufopoulos, Editorial Assistant

The Gastronomical Me by MFK Fisher

I’m thankful for the generous, sparkly, practically-edible-it’s-so-rich-and-buttery prose of MFK Fisher’s The Gastronomical Me: for it making everything, even my least favorite vegetable (that brassica the cauliflower), sound alluring and delicious.
—Christine Larusso, Assistant Publisher

The Adventures of Tintin by Hergé

I’m incredibly thankful for The Adventures of Tintin, the comic book series created by the Belgian artist Georges Remi, who wrote under the pen name of Hergé. To call the books “comics” fails to define them; to a young person learning to read they were so much more: they were literature—adventure! Hilarity! Great feats of daring! The coolest dog sidekick ever! They were what stories were supposed to be, replete with pictures to accompany each scene. Whenever I had to stay home sick from school, my recovery included burrowing under warm blankets and reading Tintin. Even if the text was in French (as some of the editions we owned were), I could still read them—who needs words when the story is that good? The books were and still are more well known in Europe than in the U.S., so when I was young no one at my grade school knew who or what Tintin was. That, combined with the fact that my mother and her brothers had read the series as children, made me feel like I was carrying on some family literary legacy whenever I cracked the pages. Steven Spielberg recently attempted to make a Tintin movie, and I admit that my family members and I went out to see it out of curiosity. Spielberg compiled and convoluted about three separate storylines to make one high velocity movie—which will never compare to the rush or absorption felt reading the books. To this day, Tintin makes me feel better. Always has, always will.
—Cate Mahoney, Publishing Assistant

Mating by Norman Rush

I’m so thankful for Norman Rush’s novel Mating. It’s narrated by an American PhD candidate who has been living in Botswana studying nutrition, or anthropology, or some combination of the two. She falls for a charismatic academic who styles himself a “radical decentralist,” and follows him to his secret project, a matriarchal communal society he is building from scratch in the Kalahari. It is sometimes a romance, sometimes a Man Versus Nature adventure—those parts are easy, and well done. But I’m thankful for this book because it sometimes morphs into a political treatise on development or a moral argument about gender and power; Rush treats the drama of thinking through intellectual questions as though it matters just as much as who loves/hates/kills/forgives whom. It’s hard for a work of fiction to be political, moral, or intellectual without being cloying (I’m cringing even as I write this list of adjectives—as much I as I admire these traits in humans, they so easily ruin books). So thanks, Norman Rush, for the reminder that you can think seriously about how the world should be, and ask your readers to do the same, while still telling a ripping good yarn.
—Rachel Riederer, Editor, Guernica Daily

Another Country by James Baldwin

I’m re-reading James Baldwin’s Another Country for what must be the fifth time, and like each of the other times I’ve returned to these pages, I’m shocked by how it can be at once so familiar and so new. There’s a rawness, a hurt that takes me aback, each time. And I find anew that some pages just make me hot. I hunger for the company of these characters, though apart from their casual intimacies—their “babies,” their “sweet sugars”—I don’t envy them their circumstances. What keeps me coming back, what keeps my gratitude aloft, is the hope that rises up from where it must surely be impossible. The reaching. It’s not a sense of faith so much as a stubborn, dawning recognition that everything is reduced to smallness before the staggering fact of love.
—Katherine Rowland, Editorial Assistant

Labyrinths by Jorge Luis Borges

If Jorge Luis Borges’s Labyrinths did one thing for me, it intellectually validated my teenaged hippie predilections. Let me explain what I mean: I was into “mind expansion.” In those days, Jim Morrison was my favorite poet, for chrissake. Then I read Borges. I inhabited Tlön, his fictional world that proves existence is not paramount to reality, browsed the Library of Babel to find not a finite number of books but an infinite selection, flipped through Pierre Menard’s Quixote which makes folly the idea that language has the power of meaning . . . and now I’m no longer sure about the nature of anything, because I hold, as Walt Whitman would say, all “creeds and schools in abeyance,” and everything contains both a profusion of significance and an utter lack of meaning, and in response I can only think of one thing to say: Thank you, Jorge Luis Borges. Thank you.
—Michael Rumore, Editorial Intern

Lit by Mary Karr

I’m thankful for Mary Karr’s Lit. For the clarity of its drunkenness: “earping” and “loop-legged” Karr walks; the shots she takes “scald a little channel” through her and “a poof of sequins” go “sparkling through [her] middle.” For the depiction of the phantoms of memory: her mother holds “captive in her body so many ghost mothers to be blotted out.” For frank testament that we hold ourselves hostage, that we hurt each other on purpose: “Whoever eats the biggest shit sandwich wins.” For a book that recounts the particular self-destruction of a creative egoist, of a person half-buried in the past, of a mother, of a woman beating love away with a bat. I could do without the last quarter of the book, which details Karr’s acceptance of formal Christianity, but the rest indicts many of us for our denials, as a good friend should.
—Katie Ryder, Associate Editor, Guernica Daily

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

I am thankful for Anna Karenina, perhaps more for the time it entered my life than for any literary reason. I chose the book as my companion on a trip to Maine right after my first year of college. The setting, a cabin on the coast, called for Woolf, but alas, it was too late. I had spent the past year reading Nietzsche and misreading Dostoevsky, and was full of the eager narcissism common among my peers. We talked poor philosophy and fed our inner (pre-conversion) Raskolnikovs. Tolstoy’s characters—at once inscrutable, irrational, entirely immediate and real—laid bare the emptiness of this hyper-intellectual yet anti-empathetic way of life. Fear and Trembling would repeat the lesson a few months later, followed by I and Thou, Howard’s End, and all books premised not on the exaltation of the individual but the sincere and fraught connections that color everyday life.
—Lewis West, Intern, Guernica Daily

Out of Sheer Rage by Geoff Dyer

I am thankful for Geoff Dyer’s Out of Sheer Rage. The book is ostensibly about the anti-hero’s attempt to write a book about DH Lawrence, but it is simultaneously a biography (in the interstices of not writing about Lawrence, Dyer’s narrator writes a lot about Lawrence), a fictionalized memoir, and a travelogue. Jonathan Lethem assigned Dyer’s book in a grad school class I took with him and I was thankful for the exposure to a writer who doesn’t seem to give a rat’s ass about genre conventions. Thank god for that. I am also thankful for Lethem’s collection of essays, The Disappointment Artist, which I pull off the shelf when I’m trying to figure out how to combine criticism, memoir, and pop-culture. Many of his essays start out being about an interaction with culture and an exercise of taste, and end up being an argument for how that cultural artifact has helped develop the author’s peculiar way of looking at the world.
—Tana Wojczuk, Nonfiction Editor

“Michiko Dead” by Jack Gilbert

Recently I carried a package to the post office, realizing about halfway there that it was heavier than I had initially reckoned. Isn’t this a metaphor for my life, I mused, moving my hands underneath the thing to get a better grip. As I continued on my way, Jack Gilbert’s poem “Michiko Dead” popped into my head. Aside from the title, there’s no mention of death or that inadequate word “grief,” only a vivid description of a man carrying a package, shifting it into different positions so that “he can go on without ever putting the box down.”

There are certain poems that I can’t imagine living without, and this is one of them. It’s a poem that reaffirms my belief in poetry’s ability to capture emotions for which we have no names, and in that capturing, reassure readers that we’re not alone. And that’s kind of a big deal, isn’t it? Knowing we’re not the only ones carrying around our losses, stubbornly refusing to put them down even when our arms grow tired? With Gilbert’s death last week, we have another loss to carry with us, yes, but also an immense gratitude for his life and work.
—Erica Wright, Senior Editor, Poetry

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One comment for Editors’ Picks: Thanksgiving Reads

  1. Comment by Eric Nelson on November 21, 2012 at 12:04 pm

    I’ll always be thankful for Michel Houellebecq’s The Elementary Particles. I don’t think I ever read a book that was more bluntly honest or critical of the Baby Boomer generation before I picked it up. The way the story is framed is brilliant and the protagonists reflect the emptiness of modern life in a way that’s realistic. American male authors could learn a lot from him regarding writing about sex.

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