Today we kick off 28 Authors, 28 Variations on a List, a series that let's us feature a bunch of our Northwest authors and their holiday book recommendations. We'll link their gift recs back to their favorite NW indies, making it really easy for you to click and buy. We hope you'll stay tuned, for a lot of reasons, but mainly because the authors in our neck of the woods have some inspired and totally unique ideas for what you could be reading or giving this season. It's going to be a lot like walking into an independent bookstore; you never know what you might find.
On the first day of December, this author gave to me, seven books for a dysfunctional but literate family . . . We're thrilled to have as our first guest Lisa Wells, the author of Yeah. No. Totally. (Perfect Day Publishing, 2011) and the forthcoming chapbook of poems, BEAST (Bedouin Books, 2011.) She lives in Portland, where she shops at Powell's Books. She writes:
My coworker says that she hates Christmas because she doesn’t get along with her family. Another friend grew up in foster care where the holidays served as a painful reminder that she was alone in the world. During the holidays we fixate on family, on our ability to be near them, by literal distance or by temperament. Of course, 20 years ago, if you were short on cheer, you need only endure a few weeks of “Jingle Bells,” but these days? They’re playing “O Holy Night” at the mall in early November. Sure, it’s a jazzy, subliminal, less explicit “O Holy Night,” but all the same. The tyranny of the Folgers commercials, where frighteningly chipper people in flannel robes pretend to be a family, is that they establish an ideal real life fails to achieve. Functional, happy families are the exception, not the rule.
I happen to love my own screwed-up family and wouldn’t trade them for the world. I suspect a lot of people feel the same. That’s why so many holiday stories revolve around quirky types who find ways to love each other despite their resentments. These stories hold particular relevance for those of us living in the West, on the far shore of migrations that left our progenitors scattered behind, remote as a comet’s tail.
In honor of real families, here are a few books that might help you appreciate your people this season.
Joan Didion. Slouching Towards Bethlehem. When it comes to family, any Didion will do. One is tempted to recommend Blue Nights on account of its newness, but Slouching has one of my favorite essays on Didion’s family, “On Going Home.” In it she describes taking her husband (the writer John Gregory Dunne) to her home of origin, in California’s Central Valley.
“My husband likes my family but is uneasy in their house, because once there I fall into their ways, which are difficult, oblique, deliberately inarticulate, not my husband’s ways . . . we appear to talk exclusively about people we know who have been committed to mental hospitals, about people we know who have been booked on drunk-driving charges, and about property . . . We miss each other’s points, have another drink and regard the fire.”
Cynthia Cruz. Ruin. This is a book of poems for anyone who spent their childhood afternoons trying to score drugs in the trailer court. These poems are tight little fairy tales where crowns and magical kingdoms coexist with madness and meth-addicted brothers:
Joe the Lion
Ruined at the Greyhound,
Mania, God's sweet basement
Meth, flooding every cell in your brain.
Your ticket to Cleveland
Soft with sweat and crumpled
In your small-girl hands.
Thin, then, on a music
So terrible. And black,
Your hair cut short to soft mohawk.
You knew I sold
My blood for money. And for love,
I've done things I'd rather not say.
I'd do anything not to be human,
If this is what it is.