Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Literary Wish List!

Do you have a literary wish list for the holidays? If you’re a writer, you do.  You might be dreaming of a stack of new books, a beautiful new journal, a fancy pen, a literary map of Ireland poster, or my current favorite from the British Library, "Ex Libris: The Game of First Lines and Last Words."  (This is a good one for playing with bibliophile friends on a winter night in front of a blazing fire.) Or maybe all you really want is a bar of "Lady Macbeth's Guest Soap."

We surveyed MFA faculty and students about their lists (both to give and receive); read on and enjoy:

Moleskine notebooks and Varsity Pilot fountain pens (in purple). Oriana Fallaci: The Journalist, the Agitator, the Legend, by Cristina DeStefano and Marina Harss. And probably several more. I'm still thinking.  – Nicole Hamer

These days, my favorite gift to give is an annual subscription to The Sun, a completely ad-free magazine that publishes excellent fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry. I support everything The Sun stands for and I feel especially happy to support a magazine that pays its writers decently. Of course, any literary journal of your choice would make a good gift. And since literary journals often take chances on unknown writers, they are very inspiring for writers. For that writer friend who has everything she needs and spends too much time on social media: an annual subscription to Freedom, an app that blocks the Internet from your computer and other devices.  - Shahnaz Habib

My family and I are devotees of the delicious Icelandic tradition of jólabókaflóðtranslated literally, the Christmas Book Flood. On Christmas Eve in Iceland, it is customary for friends and family to exchange books and then to spend the rest of the night together at home reading. Here's a story about it if you are interested. If you'd like to partake, here are some books worth giving or receiving: the detective novel Jar City by Arnaldur Indridason. It's wonderfully creepy with many uniquely Icelandic perspectives on the fine art of committing and solving murders. A less gruesome option would be The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings by Philip Zaleski and Carol Zaleski. If you love J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis and the rest of their Oxford cohort, this group biography will be your favorite gift. If you can find it (you might need to hit used book stores or abebooks.com), check out The Thirteen Clocks by James Thurber. It is not a new book but it is a delightful read, one part parable, one part poem, one part fairy story, decidedly Thurber. - Kara Noble

One of my favorite gift books is The Collected Poems of Stanley Kunitz. The poems are so human and timeless, and I read them often. For all the dog lovers, my favorite is My Dog Tulip by J.R. Ackerley, poignant but unsentimental and just an all-around treat. (My dog is named after it.) Unsurprisingly, (and Google be damned) I love atlases. Here is a hefty one that's bound for armchair and serious travelers alike. Lastly, and not a literary choice but I've bought this book for many people and it makes everyone happy—Paper Blossoms, a book of pop-up bouquets. I first saw a copy at the Gardner Museum gift shop and was completely charmed. - Susie Seligson

I highly recommend the great feeling of helping to change some lives, by helping to purchase a permanent home for my neighbor, the draft horse sanctuary Blue Star Equiculture in Bondsville, Mass. Since its founding eight years ago, Blue Star has rented a farm down the street from me and now needs to move. But any new home won't happen without the help of all who care about horses and their ages-old human connection. The page has some great shots of the hoped-for new farm home in New Salem, Mass., along with an easy way to make a donation small or large by Dec. 18. If anyone can spare even a buck for the herd by that deadline, I urge them to please do so. Big thanks to anyone who can help Blue Star, which I wrote about in Yankee magazine last year.  – Suzanne Strempek Shea

Subscription to The Sun and the New Yorker, journals, Mary Oliver’s Devotions, printer cartridges/paper, French roast coffee beans, wool socks, flannel sheets (I write in bed), Maker’s Mark (alters consciousness nicely), new laptop, votive candles (always lit while writing).  - Karol Jackowski
As for me, all my writerly wants at the moment are intangible wishes -- more time, the ability to get up earlier in the mornings (!), that every important literary influencer will tout my upcoming book...that sort of thing. But that's not helpful, I know. Here is a link to a round up on the blog of the organization I teach with locally - some cool things on there. Personally, I'd love the Wipebook, and the Nite Note Notebook mentioned/linked in the post. – Lisa Romeo

During the holidays, I love to gift books I love—and I’m especially pleased when I have books from my writer-friends to give away! This year, I’m wrapping up Kay Campbell’s debut novel, A Caravan of Brides.  It’s rich in history, and delivers a beautiful, timeless—add also timely—message about women helping women—a perfect girlfriend gift! And if you have a baseball lover on your list, I recommend Tommy Shea’s Dingers. That was a huge hit last year with my local sports fan! Some of my favorite book-related swag comes from Litographs. Through a proprietary process, they print the actual text of books, poems, and stories (including your own, if you want a custom order) to create a graphic image on tees, scarfs, totes and posters.  Yes, words—up to 90,000 of them—creating a picture.  It’s one of the coolest things ever, for a literary geek like me.  And on my list? Well, those nearest and dearest to me know better than to buy me a book.  Just hand over the gift card for my one of my beloved indie bookstores. (Supporting an indie in person or online is so much more soul-satisfying than shopping at that big-A-place. Plus, you’ll be upping your writer-angel points.)  This year, I’d like to shop for myself at the recently opened Belmont Books, please! – Kate Whouley


December greetings

Greetings! Here in New England, the cold and snow have arrived, just in time for the holidays. (To this native Californian, gaudily decorated palm trees with chili pepper lights evoke the holidays much more than snow.) With or without snow, what else puts you in a holiday mood? For me, it’s books. Holiday roundups of best books of the year, new releases, and the anticipation of hours spent engrossed in a book in front of a fire, a cup of good coffee by my side and a notebook nearby to jot down thoughts. 

Two books in particular should be on your list, both by MFA faculty members: Sophfronia Scott’s Unforgivable Love, an ingenious re-telling of the 18th-century French classic Les Liaisons Dangereuses, set during the Harlem Renaissance; and Adam Braver’s The Disappeared, a work of fiction informed by recent history and a deeply thoughtful response to what we do in the face of inexplicable acts of mass violence. Both works showcase the exceptional talent and range of our MFA faculty. And both shed light on the essentials of being human that remain constant despite social and political eras, including our own: love, connection, trust, compassion. These are not “holiday” values. But it’s a good time to be reminded. And a good time to reflect on what we have together as a community, both in our MFA and in the larger literary communities we belong to.


Speaking of literary communities, we are pleased to welcome a new member to our MFA faculty: travel writer Susan Seligson, whose revealing interview with Sandy Chmiel can be found here. After I read it, I took a moment to reflect on the places I’d been that have changed me, altered the direction of my life, taken root in my heart. I think of the beautiful holiday traditions in these countries—Mexico, Israel, Germany, Ireland, Lebanon, Spain—and how our religious and cultural differences are something to celebrate, not fear. The more we travel, via plane or via good book by an international writer, the better we understand the range and depth of our shared humanity. Across the world, we all hope for peace this season. 

Wishing you a peaceful holiday season with plenty of great books to read (and chili pepper lights, just because) and see you in the new year.