Anne Lamott in San Francisco, 2013
If you give books as Christmas gifts you may want to consider a few of the titles and authors I've read this past year. Some are old favorites that I read once again, and a couple were new to me; all were highly enjoyable. When I call a book "highly enjoyable," I'm describing a book that taught me something, or strongly resonated with my own experience and interpretation of life; it feels like a "truthful" book. These are also books that fill me with envy for the author's skill and eloquence, and cause me to seek out the writer's body of work. Here are 5 for your consideration.
If you have a son or daughter, or just a good friend who is something of a wild child--and you want to bring them to Jesus--there is no better book to give them than Anne Lamott's Traveling Mercies: Some thoughts on Faith. In this graceful and readable autobiography, Lamott mixes and blends raw emotional honesty with genuinely funny self-mocking stories to show how she became a Christian, and how that religious faith informs her everyday life, her friendships, and especially her relationship with her son, Sam. Traveling Mercies is a non-judgmental, accessible book that demonstrates how the love of God changes lives.
Richard Ford's Let Me Be Frank with You is the 4th installment of the Frank Bascombe series that began with The Sportswriter, Independence Day, and The Lay of the Land. In Let Me Be Frank, Bascombe attempts to reconcile, interpret and console a world undone by calamity, the latest of which is Hurricane Sandy. The book is a cranky, ironic, and extremely funny odyssey through an America that becomes more and more puzzling every day. With Frank, we explore the meaning of friendship, the end of life, and how to coexist with our failing attempts to make sense of a world that unravels independent of the best laid plans. As always, Ford's style is unadorned, unblemished, and sparsely elegant.
Thomas Lynch, who I consider our best working writer, has a lot to say about both the current state of his "day job"--he is a mortician--and the attitude Americans have toward death, which is more or less to pretend it doesn't exist and to hope it never happens to us, or anyone we know. In Bodies in Motion and at Rest: On Metaphor and Mortality, Lynch is, like all poets inspired by death, but unlike other poets, has a hands on approach to the matter: he actually buries the dead or cremates them and tends to their families in a small town where he works as a funeral director. In the course of these duties, and stories, he has kept his eyes open, and his ears tuned to the language of love and grief.
Murder in the Ozarks by local author Steve Weems, is a lot of fun to read on a couple of levels. First is our familiarity with the book's local setting, Eureka Springs. Weem's takes us a tour of local eateries, like Sparky's, and we can see and feel the streets and byways of "Wishing Springs" as they unfold in Weem's clear and uncluttered prose. Second, his surprising hero is a tired and work-worn accountant--someone many of us can relate to--who is suddenly and inexplicably challenged by our close but below the surface hill country culture. Murder in the Ozarks is a fast and entertaining glimpse under the skin of who we are as Ozark natives.
Julian Barnes' The Sense of an Ending is an elegant, playful, and intelligent book that won the Man Booker Prize in 2012 when it was published. The book is about a middle-aged man who is, in his words, "rather annoyed" by friends of his youth who return to the present in literal and figurative ways. Barnes' economical prose is often funny, ironic, and like life, rather complicated at times. The novel is structured by a series of mainly philosophical ideas that are played out in the manner of a detective novel; we are never quite sure what's going to happen next, or to whom. I think you will enjoy this highly original and clever novel.
So there you have it: five books (out of a million or more!) to put under the Christmas Tree.