Recently I sent a very dear friend a Kindle copy of Louise Erdrich’s most recent novel, “The Round House.” My friend is in bed, recovering from surgery, and my present wasn’t so much a holiday offering as a gift of pleasure in a time of pain and recovery. I know that for some hours and days, my buddy will be distracted by the mystery and joy of the story and the glory of Erdrich’s writing.
In fact, this holiday season, I gave only books as gifts. The new twist was that, for my friends who are “connected,” I could send Kindle editions directly to their email. And I’m not talking about just any old books. I took the time to think about which novel or memoir or history would bring a laugh or some comfort or a spark of inspiration to the people I love.
I gave books because reading and talking about books is an incomparably uplifting experience. You just can’t beat it. Read a great biography or novel and talk about it with a friend over lunch or at your book group, and you’ve found a timeout from the dizzying clatter of everyday life.
For the friend with whom I have an ongoing debate about the agonizing quest for peace in Israel, I sent “To the End of the Land,” by David Grossman. The novel, translated from the Hebrew, breathes blood, sweat and tears into the political debate. The author, whose son was killed in Lebanon, puts readers into the shoes of the people, Israelis and Palestinians, who walk the land. As you read, you truly feel the frustration of people who share an unending legacy of violence and loss.
My son, Jason, received “The Wave: in pursuit of the giants, freaks and rogues of the ocean,” by Susan Casey. A fisherman and oceangoing boater, Jason will be scared silly by this “worst case” story of the monsters of the sea. He’ll love it.
My daughter received “The Devil in Silver,” by Victor La Valle. This psychological/horror story takes place in a psychiatric ward. It will be a busman’s holiday for her, since, as a psychiatrist, she hears truth-is-stranger-than-fiction stories on a daily basis. Still, it will get her attention.