Always Look a Gift Book in the Pages?

All right, all right, so I won't win any awards here for best post title. But it's a new year and we're going to have a first book Monday on the first Monday of the first month, gosh darn it!

So did you give books as holiday gifts? Did you get any books?

I got Braiding Sweetgrass, which I read last year and adored. So why get a book I already read? Because it was that good. And because there's a special new hardcover edition with a new introduction and--gasp!--deckled edges. *Swoon*

The other book I received couldn't be more different, though it's still a work of nonfiction: HRH: So Many Thoughts on Royal Style by Elizabeth Holmes. I've followed Ms. Holmes's IG account for a while, and I'm a fan of the way she does close readings of the sartorial choices of the royals. I haven't started this one yet, but I feel like it'll be a nice distraction when I'm ready to dive in.

How bookish were your holidays?

82 thoughts on “Always Look a Gift Book in the Pages?”

  1. My sister in law bought me three books: BHO’s memoir, Rage, and a book about the Supreme Court. I read Rage. I’ve never read one of Woodward’s books before. Dude is not exactly a great writer. He concludes that Trump is not fit to be president and he reveals quite a bit of information that is fairly shocking, but he went to press in July and it now feels pretty understated. Also, Jared Kushner is an idiot.

    The Supreme Court book is not gonna be one that I’m gonna like a whole lot (Mike Lee blurbs it), but I’m gonna read it. BHO memoir is gonna have to get in line.

    I am starting a project to try and read one book about each US president. I found a website that reviews about 200 biographies if not more and selects a “best” for each president. I have a list made, but some of them are going to be hard to get/expensive, so we will see. I’m not gonna spend $125 to read about Franklin Pierce.

    Presidential biographies are not pamphlets. To read each of the books I picked out would require that I read 30,000 pages. I’d like to do it in a year, but I’m not sure if I can do it.

    I’m about halfway through Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow. Obviously, Washington is no Pierce, and this is a very good book. Chernow wrote it 10 years ago and it feels fresh. So far he’s addressed slavery some and I would say that he’s pretty sympathetic to Washington and I understand that he was sympathetic to Hamilton, too. Washington also did hang a deserter, so that also seems a little harsh.

    I read somewhere that we should teach our children not to love America or hate America, but to understand America. So, I’m on a journey of better understanding through the history of the men who have been president. Hopefully I will complete this.

    1. I assume you'll read David McCullough's John Adams next. He's a little extra sympathetic to Adams than I think he deserves, but it's still quite good.

        1. I've yet to find a really good Jefferson biography (hard to believe that an extremely complex man is difficult to capture without the author finding the right tone to handle his many flaws), so I can't help you there. You could always pivot and read The Hemingses of Monticello

          1. The site I'm using for recommendations is Here are the recommendations for Jefferson:

            Best Overall: Dumas Malone’s six-volume series

            Most Enjoyable Biography: “Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power”

            Best Character Insight: “American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson“

            I'm going to read the second one by Jon Meacham. The review is as follows:

            “Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power” by Jon Meacham was published in 2012 and is currently the most popular of the Jefferson biographies. As I’ve discovered from readers of this site, Meacham is a polarizing author. Those who love him do so because his primary mission seems to be to entertain and, only secondarily, to inform. Others find him distressing for exactly the same reason, sensing that he merely puts new wrapping paper on an old treasure.

            But no matter your take on Meacham, “The Art of Power” is both easy and enjoyable to read. At times it is thoroughly engrossing and contains its own interesting perspective on Jefferson’s life. Although it is lighter on penetrating, recently-uncovered insights and heavier on clever one-liners than previous Jefferson biographies, it probably serves as the perfect “second” biography of Jefferson.

            My goal is not to be a scholar on Jefferson (so I'm not going to read six books on him), but to get a flavor of the man along with the other 43 men before the current president who have held the office. The Meacham books seems to be an appropriate choice, but I'm willing to listen to anyone who says, uh, no.

            1. My dad was running through a similar project (without a timeframe) and for TJ I gave him Sphinx. I thought it was good once he was done with it. I didn't really like Art of Power but it was fine IMO.

          2. The problem I have with Jefferson is that I really can't stand Jefferson, but I really enjoy Daveed Diggs.

            1. He made a good heel out of ol' TJ. I didn't like him...which made me like him.
              I know Diggs has other projects out there, anything worth following?

              1. I think my introduction to him was a few episode arc on Kimmy Schmidt followed closely by a role in Wonder. I see he's in Snowpiercer but I know nothing about that series, except that the movie was very good.

      1. to read each of the books I picked out would require that I read 30,000 pages.

        And that's just Caro's biography of LBJ!

        1. I really should read Vol 2 this year.

          It was on my goals for last year, then it got locked in my office for 6 months

      2. I got to see McCullough a couple years ago at the Bushnell in downtown H'istan:
        - Enjoyable chair-side interview format - seems like he was riding on the HBO Adams series at the time.
        - My favorite work of his is The Path Between The Seas, having spent several years in the Canal Zone.
        - Dude doesn't use a computer

  2. I have a couple ebooks queued up with the library waiting for my turn in line. Meanwhile, my stack of unread Astronomy magazines keeps growing -- my habit was to read them to/from Omaha on business trips, but those obviously haven't been happening. I've had a subscription since the 80s, but I'm seriously thinking of letting it lapse. One more 2020 casualty.

    I've also purchased books I've already read, usually hardbacks or even first editions if they aren't ridiculously priced. I'd like to think that many of them Runner daughter would like to read; we'll see.

  3. With your into, I thought you got the same book as I did! Alright, alright, alright - an oral history of dazed and confused.

  4. I got two books for the holidays: Say Nothing by Patrick Radden Keefe and The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee by David Treuer. I'm excited to read both this year (but a bunch of books from my wait list at the library all showed up at the and time, so I'm working through those). I had been on the wait list for Say Nothing for at least six months, so I was able to cancel that request.

      1. I agree. Such a good description of how complicated that conflict was / is. Dr. Chop is currently reading it and has been recommending to everyone who’ll listen.

        1. I rarely read books twice nor do I buy books I've read from the library, but I'm probably going to take some Christmas money and get my own copy from our local book store

          1. It's strange, but I have the desire to reread this one as well. Dr. Chop is going to lend our copy out which ..... bothered me. (funny sensation, that).

                1. Can everyone (anyone?) see my post above this one? Because it's not in the sidebar nor in comments in the dashboard.

              1. After today's discussion, I couldn't shake the book, so I went into town and grabbed one.

      1. Maneuvering to find out name and school

        I'll never forget on my first trip to the north of Ireland being asked what the name of my school was back home. When I said it was Peterville Highschool I was asked again what kind of statue we had in front of the school. Was an introduction of sorts to the complexity of just hanging out in a pub.

  5. I got no books for the holidays. But I gave books!

    On Pepper's recommendation, Philosofette got a copy of The Latehomecomer which seems like it will be perfect for her. As a plus, it's a Minnesota author. As a double plus, I learned about, which meant I was able to avoid a bigger seller, and support a local bookstore (I ended up picking the bookstore of a high school friend who lives in Kansas! That was really cool!).

    I also gave her a copy of Circe by Madeline Miller, which I know basically nothing about, but seemed, again, like it might be up her alley.

    Aquinas has been looking for a new series of books too, so he ended up with the first 3 from The Ranger's Apprentice series, which seemed to hit the right age and subject material target. He has yet to pick up the first book - despite wanting a new series, inertia has kept him from making the leap.

      1. I mean, I'm influenced, but I doubt you got enough of a cut out of the purchases to qualify...

  6. Here's my finished books of 2020

    Say Nothing - Patrick Radden Keefe
    How to Write an Autobiographical Novel - Alexander Chee
    An Atlas of Countries that Don't Exist - Nick Middleton
    The Fifth Season - NK Jemisin
    Everyone Behaves Badly - Lesley MM Blume
    Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City - KJ Parker
    Census - Jesse Ball
    King Leopold's Ghost - Adam Hochschild
    Mythos - Stephen Fry
    The Obelisk Gate - NK Jemisin
    The Stone Sky - NK Jemisin
    The Sinful Seven - Spencer Hall, Richard Johnson, Jason Kirk, Alex Kirshner, and Tyson Whiting
    Caliban's War James - SA Corey
    Graveyard Alley - Cassidy Giles
    Gods of Risk - James SA Corey

    And I'm currently reading Hemingway's Boat by Paul Hendrickson

    1. I also bought myself a bookplate stamp, which I gleefully used quite a bit on Saturday when it arrived.

    2. I have been eyeing that Middleton book for a certain geography-obsessed member of my household (who will soon be having a 9th birthday). What's the words/maps ratio in that one?

      He devoured Vargic's Miscellany of Curious Maps, but didn't get into Ken Jennings' Maphead.

      Edited to add: He is absolutely in love with The Atlas of Vanishing Places, which is gorgeous.

      1. I'll grab a picture, but it's essentially a blurb on the left side and a map on the other.

        A lot of style over substance I felt. It's a gorgeous book, but real light on info.

  7. I got a slim volume of Franz Kafka's unpublished writings as the first book in a subscription to the New Directions New Classics series.

    The Lost Writings

    It's a weird book, as lots of the pages end up being fragments that sometimes break off in the middle of a scene, or in the middle of a sentence. Apparently, there's a publishing house in Germany that is publishing everything they can find by Kafka (notes, letters, story drafts, outlines, etc.) in 13 volumes, this one is the highlights from volume 2. Yeah, me neither. Anyway, it's an interesting book to dip into and set aside, it's like reading someone's ideas for stories without any of the fleshing out.

    I also used Christmas Cash to get myself two subscriptions to some fiction magazines. I got the first one on Saturday


    It's pretty massive (320+ pages), so I'm going to have to dedicate myself to getting through this one.

    The other magazine was The Common, which I'm excited to get as well sometime soon.

      1. My comment on Rage was that it read like a 400 page newspaper article, which is even more mind blowing.

          1. There's a big difference between "subscribe to a book" = get pieces of a book in installments vs. get a massive book dropped on your doorstep monthly

            1. Also, the writing itself probably differs. Dickens = Here's a neat idea for a short story, now let's make it many hundreds of pages longer than it needs to be.

    1. I got a slim volume of Franz Kafka's unpublished writings

      got...a book...of...unpublished...writings....


      But seriously, interesting. I was a very big fan of Kafka's stuff (in translation) when I was a senior in h.s. It was one of the reasons I decided to take German as an undergrad. Big mistake, as I sucked at learning German.

  8. I referenced on Twitter yesterday that I think I spent more time reading books aloud over winter break than I've ever done in my life. I just can't say no to those requests!

    I read The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron to the jalapeno, and he declared at the end that it's "really, really good." I concur. It's also slightly infamous as being the Newbery Medal winner that includes the word scrotum on page 1.

    Actual Spoiler SelectShow

    I read the 2nd and 3rd Harry Potter books to the peperoncino; his nanny read Book 1 to his pod before winter break, and he's now a kid obsessed. Which is interesting because the jalapeno has never gotten into the series. I read through all the books once but have never reread them, so it's been fascinating revisiting them. I'm making some minor edits as I read to remove some of the uncomfortably numerous references to the fatness of various characters. (It's a bit horrifying how regularly Rowling links fatness with negative character traits.)

    I'm also about halfway through reading James and the Giant Peach to both boys. I think this is the first chapter book I've ever read to them together, and it's really sweet to share this with them. Plus I somehow never read this book as a child despite reading plenty of other Roald Dahl.

    1. It's a bit horrifying how regularly Rowling links fatness with negative character traits.

      It seems that some of HER character traits only belatedly became apparent.

    2. James and the Giant Peach is one of my kids' favorites - I've read it to them a number of times now. I always get a kick out of performing the Centipede's songs and the awful voices I come up with for the aunts.

  9. Currently reading with little DG:

    We just finished The Problim Children by Natalie Lloyd
    Very strong Series of Unfortunate Events vibes, but less wordplay and more farting. He wanted to get book 2 from the library, so I'll take that as a positive review.

    The Girl and the Ghost by Hanna Alkaf
    I've learned what a pelesit is. In Malysian folklore, an inherited spirit or demon. Usually appears as a cricket/grasshopper.
    I'm worried this one will end up being a little dark for him, but he likes monster books in general, so I'm sure it will be OK.

    1. If he's up for monsters with a side of nonfiction, Monstrous by Carlyn Beccia should keep him busy for a good long while. It even includes a few maps!

  10. 2020 Reading (my recommendations are bolded):

    - Snow (John Banville)
    - The Association of Small Bombs (Karan Mahajan)
    - The Underground Railroad (Colson Whitehead)
    - Commodore Hornblower (Forester)
    - Master and Margarita (Bulgakov)
    - Beat to Quarters (Forester)
    - Hornblower and the Hotspur (Forester)
    - The Deerslayer (J. F. Cooper)
    - Murders in the Rue Morgue (Poe)
    - Sharpe's Waterloo (Cornwall)
    - Sharpe's Trafalgar (Cornwall)
    - Barcelona: Open City ( John Wray)
    - Decameron Project
    - Sharpes Company (Cornwall)
    - The Renegade (A. Camus)
    - The Adulterous Woman (A. Camus)
    - Obregon (A. Mutis)
    - Abdul Bashur (A. Mutis)
    - Amirbar (A. Mutis)
    - Fahrenheit 451 (Bradbury)
    - The History of Everything, Including You (J. Hollowell)
    - The Jungle Book (R. Kipling)
    - The Man Who Flew (C. Cunningham)
    - The Count of Monte Christo (A. Dumas)
    - Sharpe's Prey (B. Cornwall)
    - The Blood of the Walsungs (T. Mann)
    - Felix Krull (T. Mann)
    - Antonio Kroger (T. Mann)
    - All The Light We Cannot See (Anthony Doerrs)
    - The Keeper of Lost Causes (Jussi Adler-Olson)

    - The Face of Connecticut (M. Bell)
    - Dis United Nations (Peter Zeihan)
    - Walking with the Wind (John Lewis)
    - The Accidental Superpower (Peter Zeihan)
    - Wildflowers of the BWCA and the North Shore (M. Stensaas)
    - Wellington in India (J. Weller)
    - The Confessions of Nat Turner (W. Styron)
    - Assisi to Roma (B. Thoman)
    - St. Francis of Assisi (B. Thoman)
    - Christ Stopped at Eboli (C. Levi)
    - The Blue Nile (A. Moorehead)

  11. Hey, I actually have something to contribute to a book discussion! I very rarely make/take the time to read books. In many ways, I think I would be better off if I did. But, we spent a week in an RV in the desert, which left lots of time for reading. I think I spent more time reading in that week than over the previous year. I hope to do better this year.

    So, I read Factory Man, by Beth Macy. It's about a furniture magnate dealing with factories moving overseas while also fighting with the rest of his family over control of the family company (Bassett Furniture). Pretty interesting, and a good look at the various sides and consequences of manufacturing moving away from the US. I picked it because I read Beth Macy's Dopesick a year or so ago, and really loved the sort of journalistic style. Similar style here, but I liked Dopesick better.

    Then, I started People Who Eat Darkness, all about a British woman who was killed in Japan. It goes through the story chronologically, and I'm only partway done, so I don't know yet who did it. It's ok so far, but hasn't really grabbed my interest yet.

    For gifts, my mom gave me Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Looking forward to that one, even knowing it will likely be difficult to read.

  12. I got Bag Man for the Mrs for Hanukkah (along with a "Cup of Joe" mug). She has finished it, so I have started. It's a breezy read, as probably befits a book version of a podcast.

  13. Things I read in December

    I only read one novel, Luster by Raven Leilani. It tells the story of an affair between the narrator (a young black woman) and a middle class family. It seems like everyone (rightly) loves this book. It’s young and unafraid and yet you can still see the hurt and the scars that are forming on the horizon and some that are already there.

    I read the latest volume of Monstress by Marjorie Liu. This has become an epic fantasy series, tons of factions, tons of creatures, lots of magic. It's consistently great, but I'm beginning to think I need to get the full series and re-read to catch everything.

    Maria Dahvana Headley's Beowulf was fun to read. It's translated into a truly strange mix of modern bro-speak and epic adventure. If you can go along with what Headley is doing, it's a fun ride.

    When Louise Gluck won the Nobel Prize this year, I realized I had a couple of her books on my shelves. I read Vita Nova in fits and starts over the last couple of months. She's really good at the whole poetry thing...

    The books I spent the most time on in December were two more philosophical books: Lost in Thought by Zena Hitz and On the Road with St. Augustine by James K. A. Smith. I heard Hitz on The Sacred and Profane Love podcast, and her book sounded really interesting. She's a philosophy professor, and she argues for the true power of reading and thinking. I read the first half of this, then stopped and restarted in order to catch everything that was being laid down in the introduction. It very much engaged my brain. After reading Hitz, I kept finding myself running across Augustine. Smith likes to say that the modern world suffers from a lot of Augustinian problems, but has rejected Augustine’s solution. If you’ve ever wanted to see someone tackle a conversation between Heidegger, Sartre, and Augustine, this is the book for you.

    1. If you’ve ever wanted to see someone tackle a conversation between Heidegger, Sartre, and Augustine, this is the book for you.


    2. I've never actually read all that much Augustine, and feel like that's one of the bigger gaps in my philosophical training. I very much subscribe to a lot of of pre-rationalist/pre-enlightenment philosophy (Aristotle, Aquinas), and post-enlightenment/continental philosophy (Nietzsche, Heidegger), so the notion of helping to fill that gap in this framework sounds good.

  14. Hey DG -- finished Gideon the Ninth, and starting Harrow the Ninth, but the shift to the screwy third person(ish) point of view is really throwing me off.

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