Day 18 brings us another of our favorite hometown authors and yet another engaging list that we couldn’t get through on a first read because we had to stop and scribble her gift ideas on our personal lists. Cecelia Hagen’s most recent collection of poetry is Entering, which was published this fall by Airlie Press, a nonprofit poetry collective based in Oregon. We loved what she had to say about it here. Hagen is the author of two previous chapbooks, Fringe Living and Among Others. She teaches memoir and poetry writing in Eugene, where she and her husband do most of their tango dancing. Her favorite local indie is Tsunami Bookstore in Eugene. She’s also fond of The Literary Duck, which she says will always be “the bookstore” to her.
Here’s her list:
My favorite book to give is Reynolds Price’s first novel, A Long and Happy Life. The title alone makes it irresistible—who wouldn’t want to give such a thing? Price’s prose is dreamy, languid, and suited to the tale, a love story set in North Carolina in the 1950s. The first sentence, which is nearly a page long, describes Rosacoke Mustian riding on the back of Wesley Beavers’ motorcycle as he takes her to a funeral. Price died last January, and it’s fortunate that he left us so many wonderful books to read.
Last year I gave my son Stephen Sondheim’s Finishing the Hat. I felt a little guilty about it, thinking I was just giving it to him so that I could borrow it back. Song lyrics have a lot in common with poems, and Sondheim’s gossipy insights and observations are like candy, and he’s as hard on himself as he is on anyone else, bemoaning an easy rhyme or a bad word choice. This year, Sondheim has a second volume—Look, I Made a Hat—and my son has made it clear he’d like it, too. Nothing like keeping it in the family!
I’m getting The Meaning of Tango: The Story of the Argentinian Dance by Christine Denniston for my husband, who is my favorite tango partner. It’s a handsome-looking book that explores the history and meaning of the dance, and contains what I consider appropriate technical insights, such as: “The leader must carry the follower’s heart through each step of the turning walk, just as the leader carries the follower’s heart through every other step in the Tango. The two hearts must stay together all the time.”
For a friend who likes to read poetry but doesn’t feel she knows enough to buy it herself, I’m getting a book of Tomas Transtromer’s poems. Transtromer won the Nobel prize in literature this year. The ultra-cool independent press Tavern Books, run by two poets (Mike McGriff and Carl Adamshick), will re-release John F. Deane’s translation of Transtromer’s For the Living and the Dead in January. Transtromer’s world view is haunted, but humane. I think she’ll like it.
I learned about my next pick from the Independent Northwest holiday books catalog—honest, I did! As soon as I read about Seeing Trees: Discover the Extraordinary Secrets of Everyday Trees, I felt it would be a perfect gift for my son-in-law, and one that I could maybe gaze at for a while before I wrapped it. The amazing photographs splay out against a white background. It’s easy to get lost in them! And the author, Nancy Hugo, writes with engaging familiarity about her subject.
Speaking of familiarity with your subject, Evelyn Searle Hess’s To the Woods: Sinking Roots, Living Lightly, and Finding True Home is a memoir that I keep buying and giving. Hess has an amazing tale to tell here, but the most amazing thing is her depiction of nature, and her ongoing quest to find a way to preserve it, and promote it, and enjoy it year-round, in all its guises and glory.
My last pick is a book suitable for anyone: Jan Elliott’s newest Stone Soup collection, Brace Yourself. I’ll give this to my granddaughter—who’s a big fan of the strip–hoping she’ll grow up to have a little bit of the wisdom and humor that Jan’s fine characters exhibit, and the tolerance they ultimately have for one another. But of course I’ll enjoy it for myself first, and then enjoy it all over again when Clio reads her favorite strips to me.