December is such a busy month for most of us, a book might well struggle to get a word in edgewise. In tribute to the season, however, I have insisted on making time for Christmas at Cold Comfort Farm, a collection of short stories by Stella Gibbons originally published in 1940. The uniquely madcap title story is one of the few with a Christmas theme, actually, but so far, the whole book seems to me quite suitable for enjoying with tea by the fire on a winter evening. Gibbons’ writing is not brilliant, but it is highly readable and sometimes highly amusing as well. Not all is tidy and cozy here; there is loneliness and awkwardness (not to mention the occasional coffin nail in the pudding). Nevertheless, these stories should prove rewarding for those whose tastes tend toward mildly anachronistic British charm. (I do not mention names, but we know who we are.) For those in search of something with a bit more modern zip, read on for further recommendations from the LM staff.
Columns Editorial Assistant Irena Smith writes, “Jonathan Eig’s The Birth of the Pill: How Four Crusaders Reinvented Sex and Launched a Revolution features a renegade Jewish scientist, a Catholic gynecologist, a socialite with a biology degree from MIT, and a tireless crusader for women’s access to contraceptives. With that cast of characters—and a storyline that traces the breathless development of the birth control pill and the seismic shift it launched in American attitudes about sexuality, love, and pregnancy—how can Eig possibly miss? This is nonfiction at its finest: a wonderful hybrid of science, sociology, biography, and cultural history that reads like a thriller and tells an amazing story with verve, humor, and high intelligence.”
Literary Reflections Editor Andrea Lani shares, “I just read Cheryl Strayed’s Tiny Beautiful Things. At first I was skeptical. Why would I want to read a bunch of advice columns? But Strayed’s book reads more like an epistolary memoir than a string of Dear Abby letters and is so engrossing, I finished it in two days. Strayed weaves anecdotes from her own (often alarming) past into parables that illustrate her responses to the difficulties about which people write to her. And her advice always sounds really, really good–as in, I wish I had a tiny version of her sitting on my shoulder to talk me through every dilemma. Strayed digs deep into the underlying issues beneath people’s surficial quandaries, exercising, as Steve Almond phrases it in the book’s introduction, ‘radical empathy’–something, I think, that we all could use a little more of.”
Karna Converse, Managing Editor, concludes, “I just finished listening to Unbroken, the nonfiction bestseller by Laura Hillenbrand that recounts Louis Zamperini’s life, from juvenile delinquent to track sensation at the 1936 Berlin Olympics to World War II bombardier. I don’t think there are any better words to describe it than those on the book’s cover: ‘a story of survival, resilience, and redemption.’ The details of the days Zamperini spent drifting in a raft in the Pacific Ocean and of the years spent in prisoner of war camps are harrowing, to say the least, but I was most struck by Hillenbrand’s method of building Zamperini’s profile. She combines personal stories with historical documents that deepen the reading experience and give context for the time period. By the end of the book, I felt I knew Louie Zamperini and would be interested in meeting him. The day I finished Unbroken, I learned of another World War II story–this one by LM Creative Nonfiction Editor, Susan Ito. How to Be an American Solider offers another view of the many challenges and complexities of war. I’d love to meet this soldier too.”