Give a Book You Love – recommendations from authors

Give a Book You Love – recommendations from authors – Brief Article

Sweaters shrink, watches break, pistachios get eaten. But words have a way of living on. Five writers come up with treasured titles for treasured friends.

THIS SEASON IT SEEMS ESPECIALLY important to affirm the power of words in our lives. So we invited a few authors we admire to tell us about books they love and like to give as presents.

Alice Munro

Latest book: Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage: Stories (Knopf)

I have two. The first is All the Days and Nights, a story collection by William Maxwell, my favorite fiction writer in the world. He’s a very brave writer because he tackles what many people would consider a limited field-that is, his own experiences, with no great events, in a small city south of Chicago. He makes the most marvelous fiction out of it, recalling with the best clarity possible the truth of what he knows, because he is also aware that it is only what he knows. I find that exciting, even though his skill is so absolutely quiet. The other is W.S. Merwin’s Unframed Originals, a memoir I reread perhaps once every year. I’m like that with all the books I really love; it seems like you have to immerse yourself again and again in their language and rhythms. Merwin’s book is beautifully structured, with a leisurely but very strong kind of writing-emotion recollected in tranquillity: The emotion is very strong, and the tranquillity is very strong, too; tranquillity isn’t an absence. This happens to be a study of the author’s family, but it’s really a study of life in the world.

David Sedaris

Latest book: Me Talk Pretty One Day (Little, Brown)

Normally I try to give a book I know somebody wants, but if it’s somebody I don’t think is necessarily a big reader, I always give them a copy of Revolutionary Road, by Richard Yates. I figure if they’re not going to read it, at least he sold a book. He’s a sublime writer, and it’s my favorite of his novels. It takes place in the late 1950s, and it’s about a couple who, like most of Yates’s characters, have artistic ambitions that don’t pan out; the husband ends up working in advertising and taking it out on his wife. I’ve always felt it’s a really important post-World War II novel, capturing that moment when suburban America defined itself in terms of emptiness and anxiety I think that book should be in every home. Besides, that period right after Christmas is really depressing, and if you want to be depressed you might as well just dive right in and do a bang-up job of it!

Grace Paley

Latest book: Begin Again, Collected Poems (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

I’ve just read Diane di Prima’s autobiography, Recollections of My Life as a Woman, which is a very beautiful book and wonderfully historical. It’s about a woman who was part of that whole Beat scene in the late 1950s and early ’60s but really retained her own powers, a woman determined to live the way she wanted to live–and that was it. Di Prima is primarily a poet, but this is not fancy writing; it’s solid prose, beginning-to-end thinking about that time by someone who was influential in it. My husband and I have been reading it aloud to each other; it’s a nice thing to do in the evening. That’s a book out now I’d like to give as a present.

Francine Prose

Latest book: Blue Angel (HarperCollins)

A book I’ve given before is Passion, Justice, Freedom: Photographs of Sicily, by Letizia Battaglia. She began as a street photographer. Then, because crime scenes were so much of what she was seeing, she became an anti-Mafia photographer; one of her photographs was used in the prosecution of Giulio Andreotti. She’s an incredibly brave woman, an example of how art and courage and political action can all come together in a single figure. It’s a stunning book because her work is so visually arresting. A book I’ll give this year is Vanishing Histories: 100 Endangered Sites from the World Monuments Watch. It’s gorgeous — color photographs of magnificent sites in semi-ruin, from Pompeii to Brancusi’s Endless Column in Romania to a temple in China. This is a time when many of us are thinking about buildings–how much they mean to us, what symbols they are, and the necessity of protecting them.

Allan Gurganus

Latest book: The Practical Heart (Knopf)

The Book of Ebenezer Le Page, by G.B. Edwards, is an inexhaustible book I never tire of giving. It is literally one of a kind, a work with no precedent, sponsorship, or pedigree. A true epic, as sexy as it is hilarious, it seems drenched with the harsh tidal beauties of its setting, the isle of Guernsey. Edwards was born and grew up on the island. He left the island for good at 27 and lived and worked on the mainland for 50 years. He always told his neighbors that once retired, by God, he intended to write a great literary masterwork based on Guernsey’s long strange history. How many folks on earth imagine that if only they could find the time, they’ll surely create a funny, lyrical, and necessary masterpiece? But Edwards did. He had moved to a boardinghouse on the mainland offering a view of the troubled, gorgeous island. Its inbred erotic currents, its ways of keeping itself amused, its isometric relation to the sea make for a splendid subject. For every person nearing retirement, every latent writer who ho pes to leave his island and find the literary mainland, its author–quiet, self-sufficient, tidy Homeric–remains a patron saint.

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