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The Books our Authors Love to Give Cover Picture

Happy Jolabokaflod!

December 20, 2018 by Maddie HjulstromArticle
Some of you may be familiar with "Jolabokaflod", the Icelandic tradition of giving your loved ones a "flood of books" to read (and, in our favorite version, a bar of chocolate to eat while reading) on Christmas Eve. We asked authors from past Festivals, what book do you give most often as a gift, and why?

Bret Anthony Johnston: I tend to give poetry books most often --Time and Material by Robert Hass, The Great Fires by Jack Gilbert, and lately From the New World by Jorie Graham -- because I'm increasingly convinced that poetry is the form most capable of engaging and inspiring the reader in times of duress. And, as we all know, 'tis the season for duress!

Scott Turow: This year, we've given Rebecca Makkai's knockout novel, The Great Believers. For younger readers, it's been the books of Rachel Vail.

Geraldine Brooks: This year the book I've given most is The Overstory by Richard Powers, because it changed the way I look at the world, and only the greatest novels ever do that. It's a masterful piece of storytelling with an essential message for our current moment.

Stephanie Clifford: I have three favorite books to give. Robert Penn Warren's All the King's Men; the protagonist starts a reporter, so that's close to my own heart, and he's covering an ambitious and increasingly corrupt Southern politician as he questions what his ethical role should be-it's as relevant today as ever. Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca, a classic and atmospheric thriller about a grand and unsettling English house and its former inhabitant, is unsettling and captivating for older and younger people alike. And, a pleasingly tiny book that I give to writers and anyone tackling a creative project: Dinty W. Moore's The Art of Writing, with quotes from writers, choreographers, and other creatives offering sympathy on how rough the job can be and encouragement to keep going.

Anthony Marra: The Complete Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson. This isn't the book I give most often -- it's pricey and heavy -- but it's the one I wish I could give to everyone I love. From my first Calvin and Hobbes collection as a kid, to my annual re-reading, no single body of work has given me more pleasure over the years. Day by day, panel by panel, Bill Watterson created a monument to the human imagination.

Lisa Genova: The Untethered Soul by Michael Singer. This gem of a book was transformational for me. It offers insights for developing an awareness of negative, limiting thoughts and energy, for realizing that we don't have to absorb or cling to them. We can let them go; they are not who we are. This is the book I most often give to others. This year, I'm gifting Becoming by Michelle Obama, Educated by Tara Westover, and Gmorning, Gnight by Lin-Manuel Miranda.

Jodi Picoult: I've given out a dozen copies of Breaking Bread: a Baker's Journey Home by Martin Philip. Not only is it a great cookbook, it reads like a beautifully crafted memoir.

Daniel Menaker: if I were to give one book to people as a present, it would be Joseph Heller's Catch-22. I did give this book to my son at one point, He told me at first that he couldn't get into it. Then later he told me he kept putting it down. I said, "Well, you certainly don't have to finish it--don't worry about it." He said, "No, Dad, you don't understand--I keep putting it down because I don't want it to end." Catch-22 is a landmark in American fiction--a masterpiece that dramatizes in both comic and tragic terms the insanity of warfare and, by extension, the essential bafflement of the human condition.

Ben Bradlee Jr: I change things up, based on what book I've enjoyed the most in a given year. This year, they are: Reporter, a memoir by Seymour Hersh; Tigerland by Wil Haygood; and Educated by Tara Westover.

Ben Fountain: Over the years I've given out many copies of Armstrong Sperry's wonderful 1940 young-reader novel Call It Courage, winner of the John Newbery Medal that year. With gorgeous illustrations by the author, Call It Courage tells the story of a young Polynesian boy named Mafatu, whose terror of the sea leads him into self-imposed exile far from home. The prose is classic, and the story is universal, speaking to something fundamental in human nature. The book's still in print; if you can, get the hardback edition, so that whomever you give the book to can pass it down through the generations.

Eileen Myles: CA Conrad's The Book of Frank. It's a masterpiece and I very often give it to people who are "interested" in poetry but don't know it. They don't know what it does and Conrad's book changes everything, reconstitutes the American room. It's familiar but weird. Mind-blowing really.

Andrew Solomon: Jacob's Room by Virginia Woolf, because it is such a compelling description of the relationship between a mother and a son, and has been so underrated. And for children, The Rootabaga Stories by Carl Sandburg, because their use of language is so rich and imaginative and because they contain such remarkable leaps of imagination.

Andrea Cohen: Priest Turned Therapist Treats Fear of God, Tony Hoagland, Graywolf, 2018. I give this book to people because I can't read the poems out loud to everyone fast enough. Or slowly enough. Because these poems, written by Tony Hoagland at from what he called "the end of the branch," are as full of life as any I know, and raw and wise and striding, unabashedly into that great mystery.

Catherine Lacey: Mrs. Bridge by Evan S Connell. I don't know what it is about this novel, but it is good for everyone. Perhaps it's the way each character seems to breathe on the page, or the semi-unusual structure, or the accessible but still beautifully precise language, but I have yet to come across someone who didn't love this book. It's both serious and funny, timeless and thoroughly modern.

Robert Pinsky: I often give people A Field Guide to American Houses by Virginia McAlester. This book makes walking or driving anywhere in the country feel like the equivalent of a great museum or a lively bird sanctuary, Her text, drawings and photographs help me look at the art and history on every street. Another book I often give is English Renaissance Poetry by John Williams (yes, the novelist): the great musical birth of poetry in English, with many wonderful poems that can't be found anywhere else.

Michelle Gable: The book I always gift is Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life by Cheryl Strayed. It's funny and irreverent and touching and, in my opinion, should be required reading for mankind.

Megan Marshall: I like to give The Wine Lover's Daughter, Anne Fadiman's delightful memoir of her father, the eminent man of letters Clifton Fadiman. I bought a copy for each of my two daughters this year, now that it's in paperback and stocking-stuffer size. The book is the rare upbeat memoir of a parent, and it is perfectly "splifflicating," to borrow one of the many terms for being happily buzzed that I learned from Fadiman fille.

You can listen to Robert Pinsky, Andrew Solomon, Will Schwalbe, and Daniel Menaker share their favorite books to give here.