December Essential Reading: Gifts
A few weeks ago, at the beginning of the holiday season (according to the “normal people calendar” not the “retailer calendar”), an email from Coffeehouse Press landed in my inbox. In it, their marketing director shared the title of a book that she returns to at this time of year: The Gift by Lewis Hyde. I had been considering the idea of “gift giving” as a theme for essential reading this month and the arrival of this email felt like, well, a gift. I tracked down a copy immediately. “It is the assumption of this book,” Hyde writes, “that a work of art is a gift, not a commodity. Or, to state the modern case with modern precision, that works of art exist simultaneously in two ‘economies,’ a market economy and a gift economy. Only one of these is essential, however: a work of art can survive without the market, but where there is no gift there is no art.” He proceeds to lead us through an anthropological and historical tour of gift-giving cultures through the eyes of an artist and creator. With this idea that gifts (and books) transcend the world of commodity, our editors offer two of their favorite literary gifts.
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Fiction Co-Editor, Kristina Riggle writes, “One of my favorite gifts was a collection of essays called Life’s Work: Confessions of an Unbalanced Mom, by Lisa Belkin, the New York Times’ ‘Life’s Work’ columnist. My husband gave this to me the first Christmas after I had my first child. I was trying to navigate a work-life balance, including a child for the first time in my life, and going through a lot of emotional changes regarding how I felt about work and career. This book was thoughtful, comforting, and inspiring. I could see that all the issues weighing heavily on my mind were hardly unique to me. It is one of the best and most memorable gifts he has ever given me.”
Karna Converse, Blog Editor, shares, “My mom put this book in my Christmas stocking many, many years ago, but I read it at the beginning of every holiday season: The Christmas of the Phonograph Records by Mari Sandoz. Sandoz writes about her pioneer father, Old Jules, who uses his inheritance to purchase an Edison phonograph and more than 300 records. A poor decision according to Sandoz’s mother, who would have preferred to pay off debts, but the purchase results in a week-long celebration that brings together neighbors and creates a community. This classic by one of Nebraska’s most-recognized writers of frontier life was first published posthumously in 1966.”